The Ins and Outs of Option Assignment

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Option assignment is a critical aspect of options trading that every trader should understand. It occurs when an option holder exercises their right to buy or sell the underlying asset, and the option writer (seller) is “assigned” the obligation to fulfill the terms of the contract. This process is an integral part of how options markets function. This article delves into the process of option assignment, scenarios in which assignment occurs, and strategies for managing assignment risk.

Understanding Option Assignment

Option assignment can happen with both call and put options and under various market conditions.

How Option Assignment Works

When an option is exercised by the holder, the Options Clearing Corporation (OCC) randomly assigns the exercise notice to a trader who has an open short position in that same option series (i.e., same strike price and expiration). The assigned trader is obligated to sell (in the case of a call) or buy (in the case of a put) the underlying asset at the strike price, regardless of the current market price.

Automatic Exercise

Options are often automatically exercised by the brokerage if they are in-the-money at expiration. This means call options are exercised if the stock price is above the strike price, and put options are exercised if the stock price is below the strike price at expiration.

Scenarios Leading to Assignment

Certain conditions in the options market can lead to a higher probability of assignment.

In-the-Money Options at Expiration

If an option is in-the-money as it nears expiration, the likelihood of assignment increases. Option holders will typically exercise these options to realize their intrinsic value.

Dividend Payments

For call options, assignment risk increases as the ex-dividend date of the underlying stock approaches. Option holders might exercise their calls to own the stock and capture the dividend.

Volatility and Market Movements

Significant market movements can lead to early assignment, especially for American-style options, which can be exercised at any time before expiration.

Managing Assignment Risk

Traders can employ several strategies to manage the risk of being assigned on their open option positions.

Understanding Position Exposure

Traders should be aware of the assignment risks associated with their open positions, particularly as expiration approaches or when holding options through dividend dates.

Early Closure of Positions

One way to manage assignment risk is to close out or roll the option position before expiration, especially if the option is in-the-money.

Hedging Strategies

Implementing hedging strategies, such as owning the underlying asset for covered calls, can mitigate the risks associated with assignment.


Option assignment is a fundamental process in options trading that can have significant implications for traders. Understanding when and why assignments occur is crucial for effective risk management. By staying aware of the factors that increase assignment risk and employing strategies to mitigate this risk, traders can navigate the options market more effectively. Whether holding an option to expiration or managing an open short position, a clear grasp of the ins and outs of option assignment is essential for informed trading decisions.

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