What is an Assignment?

An assignment is the transfer of an individual's rights or property to another person or business. This concept exists in a variety of business transactions. For investors and traders the most prominent example occurs when an option contract is assigned, the option writer has an obligation to complete the requirements of the contract. But there are other types business transactions known as an assignment.

Key Takeaways

  • Assignment is a transfer of rights or property from one party to another.
  • This concept has multiple applications.
  • Options assignments are how option buyers exercise their rights to a position in a security.
  • Other examples of assignments can be found from wages, mortgages, and leases.

How an Assignment Works

Assignment means transferring some or all property rights and obligations to another person through a written agreement. For example, a payee assigns rights for collecting note payments to a bank. A trademark owner transfers, gives, or sells another person interest in the trademark. To be effective, an assignment must contain parties with legal capacity, consideration, consent, and legality of object.

Examples of an Assignment

Within the operation of stocks and options trading, options can be assigned when a buyer decides to exercise their right to buy (or sell) stock at a particular strike price. The way the options market works, the corresponding seller of the option is not determined when a buyer opens a option trade, but only at the time that an option holder decides to exercise their right to buy stock. So an option seller with open positions is matched with the exercising buyer via automated lottery. The randomly selected seller is then assigned to fulfill the buyer's rights. This is known as an option assignment.

Once assigned the writer (seller) of the option will have the obligation to sell (if a call option) or buy (if a put option) the designated number of shares of stock at the agreed upon price (strike price). For instance, If the writer sold calls then he/she would be obligated to sell stock, and the process is often referred to as having the stock called away. For puts, the buyer of the option sells stock (puts stock shares) to the writer in the form of a short-sold position.

In a different kind of an example, a wage assignment is a forced payment of an obligation by automatic withholding from an employee’s pay. Courts issue wage assignments for people late with child or spousal support, taxes, loans, or other obligations. Money is automatically subtracted from a worker's paycheck without consent if they have a history of nonpayment. For example, a person delinquent on $100 monthly loan payments has a wage assignment deducting the money from their paycheck and sent to the lender. Wage assignments are helpful in paying back long-term debts.

Another example can be found in a mortgage assignment. This is where a mortgage deed gives a lender interest in a mortgaged property in return for payments received. Lenders often sell mortgages to third parties, such as other lenders. A mortgage assignment document clarifies the assignment of contract and instructs the borrower in making future mortgage payments, and potentially modifies the mortgage terms.

A fourth example involves a lease assignment. This benefits a relocating tenant wanting to end a lease early or a landlord looking for rent payments to pay creditors. Once the new tenant signs the lease, taking over responsibility for rent payments and other obligations, the previous tenant is released from those responsibilities. In a separate lease assignment, a landlord agrees to pay a creditor through an assignment of rent due under rental property leases. The agreement is used to pay a mortgage lender if the landlord defaults on the loan or files bankruptcy. Any rental income would then be paid directly to the lender.