SPY vs. SPX: Which one should I use?

Options trading offers investors and traders flexibility and a range of strategic options not available through standard stock trading. Two popular instruments for trading options in the U.S. market are SPY and SPX. Both track the performance of the S&P 500, but they differ in several key aspects. This blog post will delve into these differences, helping you decide which might suit your trading style and objectives.

SPY is an ETF (Exchange-Traded Fund) that tracks the S&P 500. It is one of the most heavily traded ETFs in the world, known for its liquidity and tight bid-ask spreads. SPY options are American style, which means they can be exercised anytime before expiring.

SPX, on the other hand, is an index option for the S&P 500. Unlike SPY, SPX options are European and can only be exercised at expiration. SPX options are also cash-settled, meaning no actual shares are exchanged during the exercise; instead, the trader receives or owes cash based on the option’s performance.

Differences between SPY and SPX Options

1. Exercise Style and Settlement:

SPY options are American-style and share-settled. This means you can exercise the option at any point before it expires, and you will receive shares of SPY upon exercising your option.

SPX options are European-style and cash-settled. They can only be exercised at expiration, and the settlement is in cash, simplifying the process by eliminating the need to handle physical shares.

2. Contract Size:

A standard SPY option contract typically covers 100 shares of the ETF.

SPX options represent a much larger value, typically 100 times the index. Since the S&P 500 index is valued in the thousands, SPX options cover a significantly larger notional value than SPY.

3. Tax Treatment:

SPY options are taxed as securities. Therefore, any gains from trading SPY options are subject to short-term or long-term capital gains tax based on the holding period.

SPX options are treated as 1256 contracts in the U.S. This means they are subject to mark-to-market taxation and can benefit from a 60/40 tax rule, where 60% of gains are taxed as long-term capital gains and 40% as short-term, regardless of the holding period.

4. Pricing and Liquidity:

SPY options are generally more liquid with tighter bid-ask spreads, making them ideal for individual retail traders looking for quick entry and exit.

SPX options may have wider bid-ask spreads but focus more on institutional investors due to their higher notional value and cash settlement feature.

Which Should You Choose?

Choosing between SPY and SPX options depends on your trading strategy, risk tolerance, and capital size.

SPY options may appeal more if you are a retail investor interested in lower-risk, lower-capital strategies. They offer the flexibility of early exercise and are easier to trade in and out of, which can be beneficial in rapidly changing markets.

SPX options are more suited for traders with higher capital who can handle more significant swings in profit and loss. The cash settlement feature and favorable tax treatment also make SPX options preferred for sophisticated traders focused on cost efficiency and longer-term strategies.


Both SPY and SPX options provide valuable opportunities to trade the movement of the S&P 500. By understanding the  differences between these two types of options, traders can better align their strategies with their financial goals and risk tolerance, maximizing their potential for success in the options market.

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