SPY vs SPX: What Is the Difference?

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Options trading can be scary to newbies. This sort of trading has its jargon and terminology, making it difficult for newcomers to understand what people are talking about – what on Earth is a “call and put,” and why should I care? Understanding the core of options trading is essential before understanding the prime difference between SPY and SPX.

Options contracts give investors the right to buy or sell a security within defined boundaries, specifying a fixed price at which the asset can be purchased or sold, known as the “strike price.” Options contracts are also time-limited, with a predetermined end date known as the expiration date. An options contract gives the investor the choice, but not the obligation, to “exercise” or fulfill the contract. Options contracts allow traders to buy or sell stocks without fear of price fluctuations. More importantly, the fact that these contracts are optional allows one to limit their potential losses because one can always let an options contract expire if the terms are no longer lucrative for them.

SPY Vs SPX Explained

SPY vs SPX: What Is the Difference?

SPY and SPX are distinct types of financial products: SPY is an exchange-traded fund (ETF), whereas SPX is a theoretical index. However, because many investors use the terms SPY and SPX options interchangeably, understanding the nuances between the two is beneficial. 

SPY options are “American-style. ” They can be exercised any time before the expiration date. One has the right to exercise one’s options contract if conditions in the market make their position beneficial. SPX options, on the other hand, are “European-style,” which implies these can only be exercised on their expiration date. While this is a constraint for the investor, it does provide them more time to make trading decisions because they can’t exercise their options whenever market circumstances feel good. Investors who may need more time or tolerance for following volatile markets daily may find this particularly interesting. Most options contracts are generally American-style, especially those involving equities, ETFs, or commodities. On the other hand, most European-style options contracts involve indexes – SPX for the S&P 500 or other indices such as the Nasdaq 100 or Russell 2000.

Dividend Payouts

One of the most distinctive aspects of SPY options is the possibility of earning dividends, which is uncommon in the options industry. Since SPY is an ETF with a portfolio of dividend-paying equities, SPY options can pass those dividends on to fundholders. The SPX, on the other hand, is just a theoretical index that isn’t backed up by any assets or shares of stock. As a result, SPX options cannot pay dividends to its investors. For investors seeking dividend income, the possibility of earning dividends may make SPY choices more tempting than SPX.


According to existing Internal Revenue Service (IRS) regulations, SPX transactions are tax-advantaged, meaning roughly 60% of SPX income is taxed at the lower long-term capital gains rate. The remaining amount is taxed at the higher short-term capital gains rate. All SPY trading, on the other hand, is taxed at the (higher) short-term capital gains rate. This means that SPY investors will pay more in taxes for the equivalent amount of gains as SPX traders.


Regarding liquidity, both SPX and SPY options are highly liquid assets with substantial trading volumes regularly. However, SPY options are the winner among the two. SPY has higher liquidity because the options are cheaper and often have lower commission fees. This means a broader pool of investors can buy or sell these options. SPX options, on the other hand, have a higher price point that demands more capital, resulting in a narrower pool of investors interested in these option contracts.


SPY options might be appealing to investors looking for a very flexible investment. Because SPY options are American-style, investors can exercise them anytime, providing maximum flexibility. Because SPX options contracts are European-style, investors cannot exercise their options until expiration. While this may be a concern for some investors, it should be noted that some SPX traders sell their options contracts before the expiration date for gains – holding a European-style options contract does not obligate us to hold it until the expiration date, only that we cannot exercise the contract until then.

Expiration and Settlement Dates

Because different types of options close significantly differently, how and when SPX and SPY options expire is an important aspect that potential investors should pay attention to. SPY options expire at the end of business on their expiration date, usually a Friday. This date is commonly referred to by traders as “expiration Friday.” SPY traders have until the close of trading on the expiration Friday to “close” their position or let it expire. If the options contract is in the money, one will exercise their options and close the position. If market conditions are adverse, one may let the contract expire. SPY options have no value after the expiration date. SPX options are more complex. If an SPX options contract expires on the third Friday of the month, trading must end the day prior, on the third Thursday. The opening price of the S&P 500 on Friday determines the settlement price for the options one has. Other SPX options, however, expire on non-third Fridays and behave similarly to SPY options, terminating at the close of business.

Cash Settlement and Stock Settlement

This distinction is critical for investors to understand. If one is more focused on making money from options trading, SPX options may be a better choice. Investors should also examine their market cycle, as the dollar may be stronger than the stock market, further incentivizing SPX. If one is more interested in establishing and holding a stock portfolio, SPY options may be better. This issue is especially critical during periods of market volatility. Investors should be aware that these two alternatives do not have the same inherent risk. The investment is no longer risky when SPX options are paid out in cash. However, an SPY settlement in shares carries risk for as long as one keeps those shares because the stocks’ value may fluctuate once it come under the investor’s ownership.


Options trading is driven highly by market conditions, market indices such as Nasdaq, the nature of the market, whether bullish or bearish, consideration of fixed income, historical volatility, etc., as any other financial product is, which makes it a thoughtful choice for investors. Investors should understand options trading strategies, the markets in which the options are traded, and their financial goals to enrich the trading experience and which options to choose, for instance, whether SPY or SPX – this question will then get its answer automatically!

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