Does It Ever Make Sense To Lease A Car?

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Most people view leasing with the same attitude as renting a house or apartment. Each monthly payment makes the wallet of the owner a little thicker while the renter has nothing to show for it. At the end of the lease agreement, the lessee (tenant) owns as much of the property as they did before they made the down payment – 0%.

The monthly lease payments essentially offset the depreciation value of the vehicle. Just as it always doesn’t make the best financial sense to buy a house, such as only living somewhere for one or two years, there are also times when it might not make sense to buy a car.

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To lease a car is to rent a vehicle. You will make an initial down payment that can include a refundable security deposit equal to the first monthly payment, any applicable fees or taxes, additional funds to prepay the lease balance to lower the monthly payments, and the first monthly payment.

It won’t be uncommon to pay at least $2,000 just to drive the car off the lot. Most dealers expect an initial down payment of 10% of the capitalized cost (the MSRP and additional dealer fees) of the car. Similar fees are expected when you purchase a vehicle, the primary difference is that you own the vehicle at the conclusion of the financing agreement.

When It Might Make Sense To Lease A Car

Get A New Every Two

If you are one who likes to buy a new vehicle every two or three years when the “new car smell” disappears, leasing can be a better option. Every vehicle depreciates the most within the first few years after it rolls off the assembly line. Some vehicles can depreciate as much as 50% from the original sticker value at the end of three years. Depending on the annual mileage and routine maintenance schedule, cars also start costing a lot more to maintain after the 2 or 3-year mark too.

Leasing is more convenient than buying a vehicle and selling it after 36 months. Instead of trying to sell or trade-in and find the highest bidder, a lessee can drive the vehicle to the dealer lot at the end of the term and drive home in a new one. Part of the lease agreement might also include complimentary routine maintenance at the dealer location. You still might have to pay for normal wear-and-tear expenses such as tires or brakes, but, maintenance can be a “hidden cost” that most people do not budget for on the sales floor.

Lower Monthly Payments

In general, leases have lower monthly payments than car loan payments. For example, the estimated monthly lease for a brand new Ford Focus with an estimated cost of $18,100 before discounts is $181 per month for 36 months. A 36-month loan at 0% APR has an estimated monthly payment of $425. The lower monthly payment can be an affordable way to drive a new vehicle. One expense to consider that might not be included in the monthly lease payment is a product called “GAP Protection.”

Some dealers or insurance providers might require Guaranteed Asset/Auto (GAP) Protection for leased vehicles to cover the difference between the initial lease balance and the payments made so far. In the unfortunate event that the leased vehicle is “totaled” during an accident, this type of coverage will pay the dealer the remaining balance for the vehicle so that the driver will not have to finish paying off that lease and find a way to afford a replacement vehicle.

Only Plan to Live Somewhere For A Few Years

Perhaps you need to live abroad for several years for business before returning stateside or bounce around the country every couple years. Just as you probably wouldn’t buy a house for a 3-year stint as the potential appreciation normally doesn’t offset the fees associated with buying and selling the house, it might be the same thing for a car. It’s not affordable to ship your car on a barge with your other belongings when you return. Or it might be impractical to own a sports car after moving from the southern U.S. to the northern U.S. with harsh winter conditions. Once again, leasing is a convenient option as you know exactly how much you will pay when you drive the car off the lot.

Factory Overstock Leases

Sometimes dealers will offer lease specials to help clear inventory. This makes the monthly payment even lower than a regular lease payment. At the end of any lease, the driver normally has the option to purchase the vehicle for market value at the end of the lease term. With factory overstock leases, it can make sense to “lease-to-own” as the lease payments can be lower than depreciation. The financing for the remaining value will carry a lower monthly payment than if the vehicle had been financed brand-new.

For this strategy to work, you need to be intentional about banking the extra savings and setting it aside into a “no-touch” fund to buy the car at the end of the lease term. If you decide to purchase the vehicle you will need to pay the appropriate taxes and any loan down payment if you will not pay cash for the car.

Tax Rebates or Factory Subsidies

Sometimes local or state governments can make it cheaper to lease a new vehicle than buy a new vehicle.  This is most common with alternative fuel vehicles such as electric cars or hybrids where governments try to attract new customers to drive these vehicles. Dealers might also add additional subsidies for additional incentives to sign the lease. In addition to eco-friendly cars, certain dealers also offer incentives for high-end luxury vehicles. For some, it might be the only affordable way to drive a luxury car.

Lease For Business

If the leased vehicle will primarily be used for business purposes, it can also make sense to lease as the monthly payments can be tax-deductible. The guidelines are rather strict. It’s a good idea to talk to a tax professional or the accounting department before making this business decision.

lease a car

When It Doesn’t Make Sense To Lease A Car

Drivers who like to “buy and hold” their car until the wheels fall off should never lease. For these types of drivers, it doesn’t make financial sense to constantly be paying a monthly payment to the dealer when that money can be used for traveling, investing, or becoming debt-free. The two most affordable ways to purchase a vehicle that you intend to drive for more than 2-4 years is to buy a late model vehicle that is no more than 6 years old that can be purchased in whole and is still low-mileage.

Even if you need to obtain financing, it will be significantly cheaper than if you had bought the car with 1 mile on the odometer because of depreciation. A low-mileage late model vehicle can still be driven reliably for another 10 years or more, in most instances.

It also might not make sense to lease a brand new vehicle if you can afford the monthly loan payments. Instead of only renting the vehicle for three years (36 months) and returning it to the dealer so they can sell it to somebody else, you actually own the car and can sell it for the same price as the dealer. You won’t get the depreciation value (as the dealer did with lease payments) but it’s still more cost-effective than leasing.

Should You Buy Or Lease a Car?

If you are undecided whether to buy or lease a car, the Edmunds True Cost to Own calculator can help you crunch the numbers.  You should also get buy and lease quotes from your insurance provider as well.  Having realistic cost projections and knowing your preference for convenience (leasing) or ownership, can help make the decision easier.

As you can see, while owning a vehicle (like owning a house) is the most popular option. Sometimes it does make more sense to lease.

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