Lease arrangements come in two different types: open-end or "finance" and closed-end or "walk-away." This is how they work:
Open-End: The Risk of Depreciated Value Falls on You
At the end of the lease, the customer accepts the risk that the car will have a particular value or "estimate residual value" at the end of the lease. Due to this, the monthly payment is lower.
At the end of the lease and your return of the car, it will be appraised. If the appraised value of the car is equal to at least the estimated residual value stated in the agreement, it will not be necessary to pay anything. With certain contracts, it is possible to receive a refund if the appraised value is lower than the residual value, although, you might have to pay part or all of the difference.
Closed-End: The Risk of Depreciated Value Falls onto the Dealer
At the end of the closed-end lease, the car is returned to the dealership and you simply walk away. It must be returned with only normal wear and tear, and with less than the mileage limit that is stated in the lease. The monthly payment is higher than an open-end lease because the dealer bears the risk that the car's value will decrease by the end of the lease.
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Source: Thomson Reuters