Using Options to Pay Off My Mortgage Early: Month 5

Recap: In my fourth month (January) I had a record-high option trading profits of $188 in my mortgage pay off strategy, however my principal in the trading account barely grew and sat at $3,515.08. In total, I had paid a total of $256 extra principal towards the mortgage, which will equal a total savings of $393 over the life of the loan. In total across my four diversified strategies, I had earned a return of $513.33 on my $3,492.63 total investment, which is 14.7% or a CAGR of 50.9%. Impressive numbers, and way beyond my initial goals. And most certainly not sustainable! (If it were sustainable, I will be opening my own hedge fund by the end of this.)

Thanks in large part to beginning to implement some synthetic covered calls (aka “poor man’s covered call” or “PMCC”) and some luck in timing the market, February was another record-setting month. I earned $199 in options trading profits, a 5.5% return on capital and another record! I was able to grow my principal up to $3,964.77 which is 13.3% more than the previous month. More details on the breakdown of profits across the four strategies below, but first my positions and trades…

My positions & trades

$AAL, 100 shares at $13.98 average ($1,398 total principal). Principal is now currently up an astounding 51% ($713.08), however I am capped at $17 due to a $17 strike covered call position expiring March 19. Therefore, my capital gains are limited to just $302 total. I closed two positions for the month and for a profit of $39 (one put credit spread and one covered call). Similar to last month, I collected a net credit of $16 after rolling up from a $16 strike position to the current $17 position.

I have yet to decide whether I will try to roll up again or just out to April, assuming I can get an acceptable return. American Airlines is now getting to a point where I think it doesn’t have that much more upside from the county reopening. Basically, I think all of that is already priced in. For that reason, I am leaning toward rolling to another $17 strike. Implied Volatility remains high, so I should be able to get a decent return for that.

$APHA, no open positions. This month I traded two put credit spreads on Aphria. It’s had quite a run up, so was able to close both out for profit. Downside of selling puts is that the maximum profit is capped. When you have incredible run-ups like $APHA did it’s hard not to have FOMO. Still, ROI on these was nothing to complain about. The two trades totaled $43 in profits. With $100 at risk over the course of 14 days is an annualized ROI of 112%!

$GE, 1 LEAP January 21, 2022 $5 Strike Call at a cost of $6.55; 1 March 26 $12.50 Covered Call. As I wrote last month, I am trying synthetic covered calls (aka “poor man’s covered call” or PMCC) for the first time. Both of my trades are going really well. With $GE trading at $12.54 now, that $5 strike LEAP is now worth $7.55, which is a $100 profit right now. In addition, I closed two covered call positions during February for $45 total profit. Those covered call positions were at the $12 strike. I rolled the second one up to the current March 26 $12.50 strike covered call for a net credit of $5.

If my covered call gets assigned at $12.50, my $5 LEAP will be forced to be exercised and the spread will be what I take home. So $750 here. For that reason, when calculating my total principal, I cap this position at $750 (unless I roll it up to a higher strike).

$GPRO, no open stock positions. I only had one trade on Go Pro in February, a $1 wide put credit spread. I opened the $8/$7 strike position after the stock had dropped considerably. I actually was wrong on the direction of this trade, as the stock continued to go below my short strike, as shown in the chart below. Thanks to theta (time decay) and vega (reduction in volatility), this one was on the side of the option seller. I closed the position for a small, $6 profit. This month I have sold some cash-secured puts at $7.50 strike.

$M, no open positions. I continued from last month selling put credit spreads on Macy’s. The premiums were good and the volume was also good making spreads more attractive. I find it hard to get orders filled for spreads on the less liquid stocks sometimes. I closed two trades for a total profit of $37.

$MRO, 1 LEAP January 21, 2022 $5 Strike at a cost of $3.80; 1 March 12, 2021 $9 Covered Call. Last month I said I was going long on Marathon Oil Corporation because I thought demand for oil would increase as the World begins to open up from COVID-19. Well, I was right. Gas prices are up and $MRO has blown past my $9 strike! At over $12 it is now basically at pre-pandemic levels.

I closed my first covered call for a nice $23 profit. But then I should have moved the strike up to $9.50 so I could have had a little more appreciation. However, I was still able to make $17 on my next covered call when I rolled it out to my current contract. Unlikely that I will be able to continue collecting good premiums on this so I might have to let this one go in March.

Extra Mortgage Principal Paid

As I explained in January’s post, I don’t take my options trading profits and put all of it towards the mortgage anymore. Instead I spread it across a couple other investments that I think are very likely to beat my 3.125% mortgage APR in the long run. I now target just 1% of the beginning trading portfolio value each month. February started with a value of $3,514, so I rounded 1% up to $36.

In addition, my small but growing portfolio of preferred stocks paid out their first dividends, which totaled $1.33. So between the two, I put $37.33 towards the mortgage. I’ve now paid a total of $293.33 over the past five months, which will equal $450 in savings over the life of the loan.

Preferred Stock

My first passive alternative to directly paying off my mortgage principal is preferred stock. At the end of February, my preferred stock portfolio for this mortgage pay off strategy was worth $187.01 and consisted of seven different positions (8 shares total). I purchased three preferred stocks for the month, totaling $67.31. Here are my current holdings:

  1. CDR-C, 6.5% coupon with a yield on cost of 7.39%
  2. GLOP-A, 8.63% coupon with a yield on cost of 10.45%
  3. NRZ-A, 7.5% coupon with a yield on cost of 8.07%
  4. NRZ-B, 7.125% coupon with a yield on cost of 7.95%
  5. PEB-C, 6.5% coupon with a yield on cost of 6.95%
  6. PMT-B, 8% coupon with a yield on cost of 8.08%
  7. SCE-J (2 shares), 5.375% coupon with a yield on cost of 5.57%

February’s $1.33 in dividends came from $NRZ-A, $NRZ-B and $CDR-C.

Hedgefundie’s Excellent Adventure

This strategy is purely for capital growth. The target allocation is 55% UPRO/45% TMF, which are both 3x leveraged ETFs. Once their value is enough to reduce my mortgage term by one month, I will put it all towards the mortgage and start over. I have yet to rebalance this because the total value is still so small, but rebalancing is critical to this strategy’s success. For February, $15 was put into $UPRO and $17 into TMF. At the end of the month, the value in these funds was $88.01, which is actually a negative return on the $93 I’ve invested. Nothing to sweat at this point, I will just continue to buy more at lower prices. To reduce my mortgage by one month I would need to make a $573 payment, so still a long way to grow.

Accounts Summary

Of the $199 earned from options trading in February, $62 was set aside into the ULP for taxes, $37.33 was put towards the mortgage principal, $67.31 was invested into preferred stocks and $32 was invested into Hedgefundie’s Excellent Adventure. The remaining $3.02 will stay in my trading account. The trading account’s value ended January at $3,964.77, preferred stock was at $187.01 (with a forward yield of 7.35%) and Hedgefundie was at $88.01.

Benchmark Comparisons

In my introduction post I identified three different benchmarks I will be comparing my performance to. Benchmark #1 is putting all of my savings from my refinance, plus a 1 month skipped mortgage payment, into a savings account. When I wrote that post I was actually getting 0.6% APY, but it has reduced twice down to just 0.3% now. Benchmark #2 is putting all of those savings straight into extra monthly payments to the mortgage principal. Finally, Benchmark #3 is simply buying $SPY.

After 5 months I have invested $3,656.84 (initial $3,000 + $164.21 per month). Benchmark #1 is at $3,662.10, Benchmark #2 is at $3,690.78, Benchmark #3 is at $3,957.27. My actual total is at $4,656.27. I’m just shy of $1k total return at $999.43, or 27.3% (78.6% CAGR). My returns include the value of my principal in my trading account + the monthly contribution of $64.21 and interest into my savings + the difference between the original loan and what is actually remaining this month. My results are beating Benchmark #1 by 27.2%, #2 by 26.2% and #3 by 17.7%.

The market has had plenty of ups and downs the past couple months. I will keep plugging away and hopefully will be able to continue to outpace all three benchmarks!

Disclaimer: I am long $AAL, $MRO, $GE, $CDR-C, $GLOP-A, $NRZ-A, $NRZ-B, $PEB-C, $PMT-B, $SCE-J, $SPY, $UPRO and $TMF. I am not a financial advisor. This is not investment advice. Please do your own research before investing in anything discussed herein.

Using Options to Pay Off My Mortgage Early: Month 4

Recapping from last month, I had put a total of $220 towards my mortgage principal from options trading profits, saving a total of $338 in interest over the life of the loan. I started to diversify away from putting all my profits straight into my mortgage by beginning to split it three ways: mortgage principal, preferred stock, and Hedgefundie’s Excellent Adventure. With everything included, my $3,328.42 invested in this strategy had returned $470.38 (14.1% ROI/69.7% CAGR!). Surely those returns aren’t sustainable, right?!

In my fourth month, my options trading returns set another record-high of $188, a 5.2% return on capital. My principal barely grew from $3,498.35 to $3,515.08 however, thanks to a big stumble in the markets in the last trading day of January.

For the most part I have continued the same strategies from the past few months. I did add a couple synthetic covered calls (aka “poor man’s covered call” or “PMCC”). I will share those positions and strategy below.

My positions & trades

$AAL, 100 shares at $13.98 average ($1,398 total principal). Principal is currently up 22.8% ($319), however I currently have a $16 covered call position expiring on February 19, limiting my capital gains to $202 total. I closed two positions for the month and for a profit of $34. Similar to last month, I collected a net credit of $12 after rolling up from a $15.50 strike position to the current $16 position.

Last month I mentioned I may continue to sell at the $15.50 strike even if it stays in the money. I opted to roll up to the $16 instead. American Airlines continues to have some very high implied volatility and I think some longterm upside. In the short term I’m really limiting my monthly returns by continuing to roll up, but I think it will pay off over the next few months in terms of total return.

As a sneak peak to February’s update, I’ve actually already rolled up to $17. This time with a very respectable credit due to the reddit frenzy over stocks like $AAL. I also sold another put credit spread at the $14.5/$13.5 strikes.

$APHA, no open stock positions. I continued selling cash-secured puts on Aphria this month for some modest profits. I closed two trades for a combined $23 profit from a maximum collateral of $700, which is a 3.2% return.

In recent days $APHA has really taken off. If I choose to sell more puts I will most likely switch to credit spreads to limit my downside and give me more flexibility with rolling positions down and out when challenged. Currently I have a $13/$12 put credit spread for the February 26th expiration.

$CLSD, no open positions. I sold one cash-secured put on Clearside Biomedical at $2.50 for a credit of $41. I came across this one after reading this “breakout” post over on Seeking Alpha. The article was compelling enough for me to make a speculative trade on it. It worked out, and I closed the trade with a $21 profit a few days later, leaving me with an 8.4% return.

$GE, 1 LEAP January 21, 2022 $5 Strike at a cost of $6.55. GE and MRO (below) are my first attempts at synthetic covered calls (aka “poor man’s covered call” or PMCC). I’ve had good success in the past few months using typical covered calls on stocks like $AAL, $GPRO & $FCEL. Rather than purchasing 100 shares of a stock, I am buying a deep in the money LEAP contract to use as collateral for selling my covered calls. So instead of paying $1,140 for 100 shares of $GE, I bought 1 LEAP contract for $655. When I sold a $12 strike covered call for a $.38 credit, I got a return of 5.8% (38/655) vs. 3.3% (38/1140).

So the obvious benefit is you are putting up (and risking) less capital. There are two main drawbacks to using this method vs. using typical covered calls to consider. The first is that this is a leveraged position. So when $GE goes up by 5%, the price of my LEAP goes up by ~8%, and when it goes down by 5%, I’m losing ~8%. So this drawback actually goes both ways. The other major drawback is my collateral now has an expiration date! This means that if $GE closes below $5 next January, I lose all of my principal. However, I know I will be selling lots of premium before then and feel confident that I will have plenty of opportunities to get out for a profit or sell for a more manageable loss before then.

I am currently selling $12 strike covered calls and look forward to showing those results in the next month.

$GPRO, no open stock positions. In January I had some good results with selling put credit spreads on Go Pro. I closed a total of two trades for a total profit of $39. The largest spread I had for the month was $200, so that’s a 19.5% return. It’s really tough to beat the ROI of credit spreads.

I adjusted one contract by moving the long Put leg down from $7 to $6 strike when the price started challenging the $8 strike. I had decided that I would be OK with taking assignment at $8 if it came to it, so I was willing to increase the spread to $2, increasing my max loss for the trade but not effecting the likelihood of the position getting assigned. In the end the stock moved up dramatically about a week later so I decided to close it when there wasn’t much extrinsic value remaining. I then opened a similar position that same day with an expiration of one week later for a high probability “easy” profit.

$M, no open stock positions. Macy’s is now trading in the mid teens. Crazy that I was selling covered calls in the $6 range when I started. Here is an example of where I could have made a lot more money just buying and holding. But who knew the stock would nearly triple in a few months? For this month I closed 3 positions for a total profit of $32. I ended the month with another credit spread with a potential profit of $20.

$MAC, no open positions. I just had one trade on $MAC for the month for an $8 profit (5.3% return). I found $MAC on a Seeking Alpha comment. Liquidity wasn’t great so I decided to not continue trading it. It looks like it was caught up in some $GME short-squeeze mania at the end of the month that I wasn’t aware of until looking at the chart just now. It has more that 50% short interest, so it was an easy target for the short-squeeze crowd.

$MRO, 1 LEAP January 21, 2022 $5 Strike at a cost of $3.80. As I wrote above regarding $GE, I am going long with a LEAP contract on Marathon Oil Corporation. I think as things begin to open up we will see an increased demand in oil, raising oil price and profits for many of the oil corporations. I closed two trades earlier in the month for a profit of $31. At the end of the month I had a covered call at the $9 strike with a credit of $34, a 9% potential return.

Extra Mortgage Principal Paid

As I explained in last month’s post, I am no longer putting all profits (less taxes) into the mortgage principal. I think I can do better with other fairly passive, and more risky, investing. Those profits, which will beat the 3.125% return that I get by paying down my mortgage, will then go towards the mortgage. My new minimum goal for the mortgage is 1% of the beginning portfolio value each month. January began with a value of $3,498, so I rounded it up to $35. With a combined $255 put towards my mortgage principal in three months, I will save $392 in interest over the life of the loan.

Preferred Stock

My first passive alternative to directly paying off my mortgage principal is preferred stock. At the end of January, my preferred stock portfolio for this mortgage pay off strategy was worth $116.97 and consisted of five different positions. I purchased three preferred stocks for the month, totaling $69.27. I do plan to write a bit more about my strategy with these, but for now, here are my current holdings (1 share of each):

  1. CDR-C, 6.5% coupon with a yield on cost of 7.39%
  2. NRZ-A, 7.5% coupon with a yield on cost of 8.07%
  3. NRZ-B, 7.125% coupon with a yield on cost of 7.95%
  4. PMT-B, 8% coupon with a yield on cost of 8.08%
  5. SCE-J, 5.375% coupon with a yield on cost of 5.55%

I haven’t received any dividends on these positions yet, but they will go toward the mortgage when they come in. I hope to buy at least one new preferred stock each month.

Hedgefundie’s Excellent Adventure

This strategy is purely for capital growth. The target allocation is 55% UPRO/45% TMF, which are both 3x leveraged ETFs. Once their value is enough to reduce my mortgage term by one month, I will put it all towards the mortgage and start over. I have yet to rebalance this because the total value is still so small, but rebalancing is critical to this strategy’s success. For January, $13 was put into $UPRO and $12 into TMF. At the end of the month, the value in these funds was $60.51. To reduce my mortgage by one month I would need to make a $610 payment, so still a long way to grow.

Accounts Summary

Of the $188 earned from options trading in January, $58 was set aside into the ULP for taxes, $35 was put towards the mortgage principal, $69.27 was invested into preferred stocks and $25 was invested into Hedgefundie’s Excellent Adventure. The remaining $.73 will stay in my trading account. The trading account’s value ended January at $3,515.08, preferred stock was at $116.97 (with a forward yield of 7.4%) and Hedgefundie was at $60.51.

Benchmark Comparisons

In my introduction post I identified three different benchmarks I will be comparing my performance to. Benchmark #1 is putting all of my savings from my refinance, plus a 1 month skipped mortgage payment, into a savings account. When I wrote that post I was actually getting 0.6% APY, but it has reduced twice down to 0.3%. Benchmark #2 is putting all of those savings straight into extra monthly payments to the mortgage principal. Finally, Benchmark #3 is simply buying $SPY.

After 4 months I have invested $3,492.63 (initial $3,000 + $164.21 per month). Benchmark #1 is at $3,497.02, Benchmark #2 is at $3,517.41, Benchmark #3 is at $3,643.84. My actual total has just passed the $4k mark at $4,005.76. This is a total return of $513.12, or 14.7% (50.9% CAGR). My returns include the value of my principal in my trading account + the monthly contribution of $64.21 and interest into my savings + the difference between the original loan and what is actually remaining this month. My results are beating Benchmark #1 by 14.6%, #2 by 13.9% and #3 by 8.6%.

Obviously I am very pleased with the results so far and can only hope things continue to grow at a similar rate. What’s especially cool about all of this is that it all came from refinancing my home loan. The 3.125% rate I ended up with is pretty mediocre relative to what the averages are at right now, but because it allowed us to skip 1 month of mortgage payments and allows us to save $164.21, and because I am aggressively investing it rather than sticking it in a “high yield” savings account or, worse, spending it, I am slowly turning that opportunity into wealth.

Disclaimer: I am long $AAL, $MRO, $GE, $CDR-C, $NRZ-A, $NRZ-B, $PMT-B, $SCE-J, $SPY, $UPRO and $TMF. I am not a financial advisor. This is not investment advice. Please do your own research before investing in anything discussed herein.

Using Options to Pay Off My Mortgage Early: Month 3

First off, HAPPY NEW YEAR! This is not a yearly recap post and since I just started this blog a couple months ago, I’m not sure I will be making one. I will likely have a forward looking 2021 post though. Now, onto the post…

After two months of this experiment, I had put a total of $187 towards my mortgage principal from options trading profits which will equal $288 of interest saved over the course of my 30-year 3.125% loan. In addition, my options trading account principal of $3,200 (which was/is funded from savings from refinancing) was up to $3,240.86. A great start and already ahead of my initial goal by 2.6%.

I have continued to outperform in December, my third month, with $170 in options trading profits which is a 5.1% return on capital! In addition, my principal has grown to $3,498.35, 6% more than the $3,300 added to the account thus far. Remember, that 6% is after deducting taxes and withdrawals from the account to make the extra mortgage principal payments.

This month I have made a dramatic tweak to how I am divvying up my options trading profits towards my extra mortgage principal payments. More on that after I review this month’s positions and trades.

My positions & trades

$AAL, 100 shares at $13.98 average ($1,398 total principal). Principal is currently up 15.4% ($215.08), however I currently have a $15.50 covered call position expiring on January 29, limiting my capital gains to $152 total. I closed two positions for the month and for a profit of $74. I collected a net credit of $12 after rolling up from a $15 strike position to the current $15.50 position.

Going forward I will most likely continue to sell the $15.50 strike even if it stays in the money. I should be able to collect a large credit at least one more time. I will consider moving up to the $16 strike if I can still collect a decent credit. My main objective here with this account is to generate income, with a secondary goal of capital preservation and tertiary is capital growth, however I don’t want to leave easy money on the table in the name of current income. Like so many things in life, it is a balance.

$FCEL, no open positions. This month I finally had my shares of FuelCell Energy called away. In the end, I made about 30% in profits from that position. BUT I missed out on a $1,000 profit! This was a classic case of picking up pennies in front of a steamroller. In my defense, the pennies were very shiny and no one could have seen that steamroller coming!

I only closed that final $2.50 covered call for a $10 profit. On to the next one!

$M, no open stock position. Last month I had my Macy’s position called away at $6.50. I had just about given up on the stock when I saw an easy trade by selling a $9 Put for January 15 for a credit of $15. This trade is a 1.7% return (26% annualized), so it meets my 1% goal.

If the stock drops suddenly to below $9 and I am assigned, I expect the premiums to go up and good potential for selling covered calls.

$GPRO, no open stock position. Similar to Macy’s, Go Pro was a stock that was called away from me in November. I decided to sell some puts this month, and that worked out well for me. I closed three positions for $34 profit. My highest strike price on those positions was $7.50, so that $34 was made using $750 as collateral, which is a 4.5% return.

I currently have a put credit spread at the $8/$7 strikes that I collected a credit of $27. In the past couple months I have had a lot more success with simply selling naked positions (cash-secured puts or covered calls, technically) than with credit spreads. However, more recently I’ve found some decent success with credit spreads as long as I’m willing to roll it out when I’m challenged. Contrary to a lot of advice, I am generally able to do this while collecting a credit if I widen the spread. So if I start with a $1 spread, I roll it out and down (for a Put) or up (for a Call). I’m therefore increasing my potential loss, which is why it generally isn’t advised, but it’s working for me right now so I’m going to go with it.

$APHA, no open stock position. I continued selling cash-secured puts on Aphria this month for some decent profits. I’ve thus far avoided getting assigned the stock. I closed three positions for a total profit of $33. Similar to the $GPRO puts, those $33 were earned with a maximum collateral used of $700, so a 4.7% return.

I currently have a $6.50 cash-secured put for January 15 open that I am watching closely. I collected a net credit of $18 after rolling down and out from December 31 $7 strike. That’s looking like a pretty smart move since it closed at $6.92 on New Year’s Eve and I would have been assigned. I may look to roll down and out to the $6 strike if I am able to for at least a 1% credit (i.e. $6).

$MRO, no open position. I had one trade on Marathon Oil Corporation this month, a credit spread from $5.50 to $4.50, with a profit of $9.

$MAC, no open stock position. I have an open credit spread on The Macerich Company (a REIT) from $9 to $7.50. I collected a credit of $13.

Extra Mortgage Principal Paid

As I said earlier in the post, I’ve changed how much of my profits I am putting straight into my mortgage principal. Perhaps this deserves its own lengthy post, but essentially I am wrestling with the opportunity cost of locking those profits up into the equity in my home. Now don’t read this as my giving up three months in.

As I listen to more finance podcasts and Youtube videos, I often hear about the velocity of money. When money is moving, it has velocity. Option trading is great because you are constantly moving money from one opportunity to the next. The money has velocity. When a dollar goes into my mortgage principal, it comes to a screeching 3.125%-halt. Remember my goal, which I am currently outperforming considerably, is 1% a month or 12% a year! Wouldn’t it be great if I could keep the velocity going before slowing it way down with my mortgage?

Of course it would be. However, the only reason anyone ever put extra principal into a mortgage was for that guaranteed rate of return. It’s essentially risk free! Compare that to a 0.4% APY “high yield” savings account and that 3.125% rate now looks pretty good! Based on my performance in the past three months, I should sell options with every dollar I have since my returns are so great, right?! Well, no. I’m not so naive to think that this will continue on forever without any losses.

All this to say that I will continue to remove my profits from my mortgage payoff trading account. I will continue to set aside the correct amount for taxes. Assuming I am left with more than my 1% goal for the month, I will take that 1% and put it towards my principal. The remaining balance is where I plan to… diversify.

Preferred Stock

I’m not going to take the time to explain the nuances of preferred stock here (Investopedia definition). It is often referred to as a hybrid of stocks and bonds. Anyway, I have been reading a book called Preferred Stock Investing and I believe there are some great opportunities for some fairly high yields. This month I actually bought two preferred stocks with dividends that yield an average of about 8%. I plan to take those dividends and put that money into the mortgage principal. Instead of taking my super high return from options trading and slowing it down immediately into my mortgage, these dollars will keep speed for a while longer.

While I expect (hope) to outperform even these high yields of 8% with my options trading, these income source has the benefit of being nearly completely passive. Options trading is one of the most active forms of trading, I am learning. Diversifying profits away from the options trading and into more passive income streams will help keep everything more sustainable as the account size grows.

Hedgefundie’s Excellent Adventure

Honestly, not really sure where to start with this. Think leverage. Think risk parity. That’s Hedgefundie’s Excellent Adventure. The strategy, specifically, is 55% in a 3X leveraged S&P 500 ETF $UPRO and 45% in a 3X leveraged long term bond ETF $TMF. Rebalance as required. There’s a great write up of the strategy here (it initially started from an epic thread on the “Bogleheads” forum).

After setting aside my portion straight towards the mortgage and purchasing any preferred stocks for the month, I will split my profits 55/45% into the Hedgefundie strategy. For now, my plan is to let this pile grow until I reach enough to reduce my mortgage term by one month. As of now, I need $643. This allows me to benefit from the great growth potential of leveraged ETFs while minimizing the risk since I won’t be letting it grow indefinitely.

So how did I slice this complicated pie this month?

After taxes ($53 into ULP), the $170 profits was $117 net. Instead of putting that $117 total into the mortgage as I would have in the previous two months, I put just $33, which is ~1% of my account’s starting principal of $3,240.86 for December. I bought two preferred stocks ($NRZ.A for $23.22 and $PMT.B for $24.75) for $48.15. Finally, I invested $36 into the Hedgefundie strategy, as $20 in $UPRO and $16 in $TMF.

With a combined $220 put towards my mortgage principal in three months, I will save $338 in interest over the life of the loan. In addition, my preferred stocks are now worth $49.55, a 4.2% return, and will yield ~8% going forward ($3.88 in dividends annually). Finally, the Hedgefundie’s Excellent Adventure is also up 4.2% to $37.53.

Benchmark Comparisons

In my introduction post I identified three different benchmarks I will be comparing my performance to. Benchmark #1 is putting all of my savings from my refinance, plus a 1 month skipped mortgage payment, into a savings account. When I wrote that post I was actually getting 0.6% APY, but it has reduced to 0.4%. Benchmark #2 is putting all of those savings straight into extra monthly payments to the mortgage principal. Finally, Benchmark #3 is simply buying $SPY.

I continued to make gains across all three benchmarks this month. When considering the value of my principal in my trading account + the monthly contribution of $64.21 and interest into my savings + the difference between the original loan and what is actually remaining this month, my total value is at $3,799 after the month of December, a 13.2% improvement over November. That beats Benchmark #1 (all savings) of $3,332 by 14.0%, Benchmark #2 (extra mortgage payments only) of $3,344 by 13.6% and Benchmark #3 ($SPY) of $3,561 by 6.7%. Below is a chart of my progress so far.

Thanks again for following along. Looking forward to more progress in 2021!

Disclaimer: I am long $AAL, $UPRO and $TMF. I am not a financial advisor. This is not investment advice. Please do your own research before investing in anything discussed herein. This post contains affiliate links.

Using Options to Pay Off My Mortgage Early: Month 2

In my first month of using options trading profits to pay off my mortgage early, I earned a total of $152 and put $73 of that towards my mortgage principal. Over the life of the loan, that $73 is worth a total of $113. My goal as stated in my introduction post was to earn 1% of my initial $3,000 starting principal and put just $21 towards the mortgage principal. I was off to a great start, though my principal was down 16%.

I am very happy to report that my second month was even better than my first: $167 in profit! This is a 6.2% return on capital for the month of November (75% annualized).

Thanks to the overall market’s strong month, my long positions went up and I was able to completely reverse the 16% my principal was down. It is now at $3,240.86, which is 1.3% higher than the $3,200 I have added to the account thus far.

My positions & trades

$AAL, 109 shares at $13.98 ($1,523.73 total principal). Principal is currently up 2.3% ($34.97). I closed a total of four positions for a profit of $34. I currently have a $15 covered call position that I expect to collect another $34 from on New Year’s Eve.

$AAL November 2020 chart from StockCharts.com

$34 is a 2.4% return on my initial principal on American Airlines, well above my 1% goal each month, but much lower than the total portfolio’s returns of 6.2% for the month. The higher returns came from the other positions this month, but I’m happy to hold onto American Airlines for now. I think it will continue to move up and down with the COVID vaccine news, and I plan to ride that wave.

$FCEL, 100 shares at $2.34 ($233.78 total principal). At the close of November, Fuel Cell was trading at $10.18. That’s a 335% return! However, I sold a call option at $2.50, meaning my upside is limited to just $16, or less than 7%. Picking up pennies in front of a steam roller is a common metaphor used for selling options, and I think this is a perfect example of that. I plan to have a future post on this after it all shakes out. It will have a catchy title like, “How I missed out on $784.”

$FCEL November 2020 chart from StockCharts.com

As for the trades, I had a $2.50 call option that I collected $15 on due to expire on November 20. Rather than letting the shares be called away, I decided to roll the $2.50 to the next month for a net credit of $10 (the November contract was bought for $1.55 and the December contract was sold for $1.65). This is basically a guaranteed $10, or 4% return on the $250 principal I would collect if/when the shares are assigned. For me to lose money on this, the stock would have to retreat all the way back below my purchase price of $2.34. I am now so far in the money that I’m not sure I will be able to continue to roll the position for a profit. However, I will still try as long as I can get 2% or so.

$M, no open position. Macy’s is another stock that I missed some big upside gains on. However, I was able to milk it a little more than the $FCEL trade. I closed two trades for the month, netting me $54 on a position size of $617, which is an 8.8% return. When I finally had the shares called away at $6.50 on November 20, I profited $33 on the sale, but missed out on an additional ~$250 since the stock was then trading near $9. The stock is now above $10. I most likely won’t enter $M again unless there is a pullback.

$M November 2020 chart from StockCharts.com

$GPRO, no open stock position. Go Pro was my third position that was called away this month. I had 100 shares at $6.46, and the shares were called at $7 on November 6. You can see in the chart below that there was a big spike that I got caught in.

$GPRO November 2020 chart from StockCharts.com

In total I closed three trades for a net profit of $52. I currently have a $6.50 put due to expire this Friday, December 4. It is only an $8 credit, but that exceeds my 1% goal and was only a one-week contract. I expect to trade more cash-secured puts around the $6-$7 level going forward.

$APHA, no open stock position. Marijuana stocks are going nuts right now and option premiums are juicy. Aphria has been especially volatile due to a recently announced acquisition of Sweetwater Brewing Company. I currently have a $6.00 cash-secured put contract for December 11 that I collected a $17 credit on (2.8%). If I get assigned, I will sell a covered call in the $6.50-$7 range most likely.

$APHA November 2020 chart from StockCharts.com

Extra Mortgage Principal Paid

With $167 in net credits earned for the month, I am setting $53 aside for tax purposes. Last week I said I would be using $GNMA for my “tax escrow.” I have since been enlightened with the “The Ultimate Liquidity Portfolio” (ULP). I will have a forthcoming post on the idea as well as the book How to Stash that Cash by Chris Kawaja. In practice, the ULP can be implemented by putting 88% into intermediate term treasuries (e.g. $VGIT) and 12% in the US total stock market (e.g. $VTI). This puts my tax escrow account value at $99.82 as of this post.

So after taxes, I’m left with $114 that I decided to put directly towards my mortgage principal. With a combined $187 put towards my mortgage principal after two months, I will save $288 over the life of the loan.

Benchmark Comparisons

In my introduction post I identified three different benchmarks I will be comparing my performance to. Benchmark #1 is putting all of my savings from my refinance, plus a 1 month skipped mortgage payment, into a savings account. When I wrote that post I was actually getting 0.6% APY, but it has reduced to 0.4%. Benchmark #2 is putting all of those savings straight into extra monthly payments to the mortgage principal. Finally, Benchmark #3 is simply buying $SPY.

After losing to all three Benchmarks in my first month, I am now well ahead in all three. When considering the value of my principal in my trading account + the monthly contribution of $64.21 and interest into my savings + the difference between the original loan and what is actually remaining this month, my total value is at $3,356 after the month of November a 27.8% improvement over October. That beats Benchmark #1 (all savings) of $3167 by 6.0%, Benchmark #2 (extra mortgage payments) of $3,172 by 5.8% and Benchmark #3 ($SPY) of 2.2%. I’m pretty impressed that I managed to beat $SPY since November was the best month in the market in over 30 years.

I plan to put all these details onto my Using Options to Payoff My Mortgage Early page, including some tables and charts to show my progress from month to month. I’m still trying to format that so it’s easy to read, but hopefully I get that done before the end of the year!

Thanks for following along. I’m very happy with my progress, but it is just early days. Please don’t follow what I’m doing without doing your own research. Trading stocks and options can be risky. I hope you are inspired by these series of posts and my website to learn more about the strategies I am using to trade options and build wealth rather than attempting to follow blindly.

Using Options to Pay Off My Mortgage Early: Month 1

I have been looking forward to making this post since I wrote my introduction post earlier this month, stating my intention to pay down my mortgage principal early using extra monthly cashflow from recently refinancing our home to a lower interest rate. Rather than simply putting the money saved thanks to our new, reduced payment straight into the principal, I am investing the extra cash flow with options, and then using those profits to pay down the mortgage. You can read more about my general options trading strategy I will be using in this post.

I officially began this strategy on October 8. $SPY, the S&P 500 ETF, was trading at $350.10 at the time. It closed the month at $326.54, down 6.73%. Thanks to option trading, I was still able to generate premiums well in excess of my 1% monthly target. I was able to profit $152, representing a 4.9% return on my capital (that’s 78% annualized!).

As I wrote in my previous post, the difficult part of option trading is often preserving your capital. And my holdings were far from immune from the market pull-back. After taking my premiums out to pay down the loan and setting aside a portion for taxes, my portfolio value is actually down 12.9%. I am not concerned (yet, anyway) as my positions are still at a value that I can sell premiums (with covered calls) at strike prices that would still be profitable if I had to sell at expiration and still meet my 1% portfolio goal for the month. I actually already have open positions due to expire next month that will provide at least a 2% return. I will explain the details below.

My positions & trades

O.K., confession: I actually started this journey with an existing long position, rather than $3,000 in cash like I said I would. I had 68 shares of $AAL with an average price in the low $14.XX’s. Since I was already fairly close to a 100 share position (which is required to sell covered calls), I decided to just purchase the remaining 32 shares at $13.07. I actually bought another 9 shares later in the month at $12.31 per share, bringing my average price down to $13.98. Now I can sell covered calls at $14 knowing that if my option contract is exercised, I will get all of my principal back.

$AAL, 109 shares at $13.98 ($1,523.73 total principal). Principal is currently down 19.5% ($297.48). I closed a total of four positions for a profit of $63. I currently have a $14 covered call position that I opened for a $16 credit. After the big pullbacks last week I decided to open a put credit spread at $10.50/$10, taking in a $10 credit for a $50 risk.

After my $AAL position, I had about $1,500 in cash left to work with. I wanted to try to split this among at least two different positions for diversity sake. Rather than selling cash-secured puts to put my capital to work, I decided to purchase 100 shares of these stocks and then immediately sell covered calls on those positions. Honestly I’m not really sure why I decided to go this route. I must have been happy with the call premiums I could get at the time.

$M, 100 shares at $6.17 ($616.76 total principal). Principal is currently up 0.4% ($2.24). I closed one position for a profit of $26. I currently have a $6.50 covered call position that I opened for a $20 credit. Macy’s is pretty volatile right now, which is why I’m able to collect some solid premiums (that $20 credit is 3% of $6.50 for an 8-day long contract!).

$GPRO, 100 shares at $6.46 ($646 total principal). Principal is currently down 8.0% ($52). I closed a total of three positions for a profit of $33. I currently have a $7 covered call position that I opened for a $17 credit. Implied volatility is great on this stock as well, giving me an opportunity to likely sell another intra-month contract at a profitable level (strike price of $6.50+).

$FCEL, 100 shares at $2.34 ($233.78). Principal is currently down 14.4% ($33.78). I closed a total of two positions for a profit of $30. I currently have a $2.50 covered call position that I opened for a $15 credit. I had a couple hundred dollars left and decided to be a bit more risky. Fuel Cell is an alternative energy play from way back in the .COM days (it’s all-time high is almost $7,000 per share!). Both of the positions I closed were actually in-the-money calls ($2 strike price) that I closed because most of the value of the contract was gone once the stock price dipped. If this contract expires out of the money, I will probably look to sell another in-the-money call if I can guarantee a profit (e.g. if I sell a call at $2, it needs to be worth more than $34 to be a guaranteed profit at expiration).

Extra Mortgage Principal Paid

With $152 in net credits earned for the month, I am setting $47 aside for tax purposes. I am currently using $GNMA as my tax escrow account, so I bought $47 worth of it. $GNMA is an ETF that holds mortgage-back securities issued by the government and currently yields about 2%. It is a pretty stable ETF and I feel better about setting this cash aside for next year in something that will earn a bit of interest rather than sitting on the sidelines.

So after tax, I’m left with $105. I have decided to take $73 of that total to put directly toward my mortgage principal. That $73 puts me 254% ahead of my goal for the month and will amount to $113 savings in interest over the life of the loan. It’s a great start!

Why didn’t I use the entire $105? Since my principal had such large paper losses this month, I decided to keep a bit of that cash in my portfolio. I came up with $73 by balancing the difference between my starting principal, deposits, premiums earned, stocks purchased and the tax I’ve set aside.

Benchmark Comparisons

In my introduction post I identified three different benchmarks I will be comparing my performance to. Benchmark #1 is putting all of my savings from my refinance, plus a 1 month skipped mortgage payment, into a savings account. When I wrote that post I was actually getting 0.6% APY, but it has reduced to 0.5%. For comparison this month, I will stick to 0.6%. Benchmark #2 is putting all of those savings straight into extra monthly payments. This one will probably be the hardest to “beat”, but the funds are the most illiquid, which is important to me at this point in my life. Finally, Benchmark #3 is simply buying $SPY.

So how did I do this month? On paper, it doesn’t look so good. If you take my paper losses on my stock positions, add the extra principal payment I made, cash remaining in my portfolio, my $3,000 is actually down to $2,576.41. Had I put the $3,000 into my savings account, it would now be worth $3,001.50. If I had put the $3,000 into my mortgage principal, I actually wouldn’t have gained anything yet since it hasn’t compounded, so it would still only be worth $3,000. Had I bought $SPY, that $3,000 would now by just $2,798.11.

So I’m actually down 14.2% to Benchmark #1 (savings), 14.1% to Benchmark #2 (extra mortgage payments) and 7.9% to the S&P 500. Currently, putting everything into a savings account is the winner! But that will definitely change.

So here is where I rationalize my performance this month. First, a big portion of my paper losses come from those 68 shares of $AAL I had bought months ago that were already down more than 10% when I got started. That alone makes the difference in my performance deficit to the $SPY. The $73 I put towards my mortgage principal hasn’t had any time to compound yet, so that will start to grow and grow, quickly closing the gap to Benchmark #2.

Overall I am still quite optimistic and excited to see where I continue to stack up against these benchmarks. Looking forward to another month of options trading!

Using Options to Pay Off My Mortgage Early: Trading Strategy

In my last post on this strategy, I introduced the plan to pay off my recently refinanced mortgage early with returns generated from options trading. The pros and cons of paying off a mortgage early aren’t discussed in that post or here, but I will likely write something about it in future posts. The capital used to fund this trading is the amount we are saving due to refinancing our loan at a lower interest rate, which is $164.21 in monthly savings. We were able to skip one month of mortgage payments (we closed in September and our first mortgage payment on the new loan isn’t due until November). Our skipped payment is the initial trading account’s starting balance (“principal”), which is $3,000. $100 of the savings will be added to the principal each month, with the remaining $64.21 going into our savings account (which yields 0.6%), at least for now.

There are further details in that introduction post, including three different benchmarks I will be comparing my results to.

In this post I want to dig a little bit deeper into the strategy I plan to use to generate my monthly return goal of 1%. The basic concept is to sell cash-secured puts and covered calls. If you are new to options trading, here are two good resources to explain what cash-secured puts (here’s a good explanation and Option Alpha has a good video) and covered calls (Investopedia and Option Alpha video) are. Basically, selling a cash-secured put gives you a premium up front for your obligation to purchase the shares at the chosen strike price. It is cash-secured because the amount you are obligated to purchase the shares at is used as collateral and is not available for trading until the contract is closed. Selling covered calls gives you a premium up front for your obligation to sell shares you currently own at the chosen strike price.

It’s actually very easy to generate 1% return on your principal each month using either of these strategies. The trick is to preserve that principal throughout market cycles. Let’s go over the risk of each strategy and how I might lose money doing this strategy. First, if I sell one $9 put contract on a stock currently trading at $10, and it drops below $9, say $8.50, then I will be down $.50 per share (or $50 total since one contract is equivalent to 100 shares). Remember I collected a premium up front for selling the put, so I’m actually down $50 less the premium received. If the premium was more than $50, I would actually still be profitable at $8.50 per share. As you can see, though, if the stock crashes, I’m losing money. If it stays above $9 at expiration then I keep the entire premium and don’t acquire the shares.

Now let’s say that I already owned the shares at $10 per share. I sell a covered call at a strike price of $11. If the stock goes above $11, I’m forced to sell it at $11 per share, even if it took off to $15. You lose the upside potential by selling covered calls. If it drops to $8.50 like the previous scenario, then I am now down $1.50 per share minus the premium received. In that situation, I still own the shares so I can sell a covered call at $11 (or $10.50 or $10 or…) the next month.

In an ideal world, I will sell puts, and the stock will always stay above my strike price. I keep the cash in my account and keep collecting premiums. If I get assigned, again ideally I just sell covered calls at above my average price on the stock. As soon as the stock comes back up to my strike price, I sell it for a profit and get to keep the premium. This is known in options trading as the wheel (Medium article).

The premium received on puts diminishes the lower the strike price is, and it diminishes on calls the higher the strike price is, relative to the stock’s current price. So if I get assigned a stock that I sold a put on, and it absolutely tanks, I won’t be able to sell calls at a profitable price because the premium will be so small. This is really the worst case scenario.

A couple strategies I have to help limit my principal losses:

  1. Diversify the stocks I’m working with. I’m limited by the share price of the contracts I’m selling puts on by the size of my principal since these are cash-secured puts. Starting with $3,000, the most expensive stock I can work with is $30 per share ($30 * 100 = $3,000). If that one stock crashes while I have a contract on it or own the shares, then I could be in trouble. If I instead am using three different $10 stocks, the chances of all three crashing at once is much less likely. Especially if they are in different sectors. Or even better if they have uncorrelated or opposing Betas (Investopedia Beta definition).
  2. Sell puts at a price where I don’t have a high likelihood of getting assigned. This is about not being too greedy or speculative. If my goal is 1% per month, I don’t need to try to get a return of 10% with a very aggressively priced put.
  3. Sell calls close to the money or even in the money. Opposite from puts, if I sell my calls at an aggressive price, I am more likely for the shares to be taken away from me and I lock in my profits. What I’m losing here is the upside of the stock taking off. But my goal of this strategy isn’t growth. It’s to generate regular income to pay down debt while preserving my capital.
  4. Use premiums to lower my average share price rather than withdrawing from the account to pay down the mortgage. If I’m down on a position, I may use the premium I used from selling a covered call to buy shares at a lower price to lower my cost basis. If it lowers my costs enough, this will actually allow me to sell calls at lower strike prices and still remain profitable. 1% in income is my goal, but not at the sacrifice of my principal. Currently, I am thinking I may do this if a stock I own is trading at a price that is more than 5% lower than my cost-basis (Investopedia Cost-Basis definitionand is one strike price lower than my cost-basis (so if I bought the stock at $10.55 and it is now trading at $10.10, I could buy more shares at $10.10, bringing my average down below $10.50 and allowing me to sell a call at $10.50 because that is now above my total cost-basis).
  5. In extreme cases it may be necessary to either sell the shares at a loss or start selling calls at below a profitable level. Hopefully this doesn’t happen, but it’s better then letting my principal go to $0!

Picking Stocks

The fun part! One of the keys to this strategy is to pick the right stocks. It’s best to trade companies that have a solid foundation and are likely to be around for a while. This isn’t a buy & hold strategy, however, so I don’t need to be forecasting 10 years in the future. It’s great if the stock goes up in price, and I can still make money on stocks that drop a little bit. The three killers to avoid are stocks crashing, super low options trading volume, and a large drop in implied volatility, all while holding a position in the stock.

I don’t have a strict set of criteria for stock picking for this strategy yet, but I intend to share my trades each month along with my progress. In time, I expect themes to present themselves and will hone my strategy more and more.

Progress

As long as I am continuing with this strategy, I intend to post regular updates on my progress, including trades made, profits, and the mortgage pay down progress. I am making a separate page here that will show some tables and graphs to keep track of everything in one place.

This plan is already in motion and I have made 7 trades in 4 different stocks so far. I’m excited to share my progress and begin reducing my family’s debt!