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Chapter 7

So, You're Thinking about Leasing a Vehicle

Here are the secrets no leasing company wants to tell you!


The Lease Hype

If you’re in the market for a vehicle, someone is going to try to switch you to leasing. If you’ve been to a dealership lately, or visited an automotive website, you already know that.

The pitch from these salespersons has been really successful, too. One study showed that only 6% of people plan to lease a vehicle when they enter a dealership, but 35% have leased before they drive out of that dealership. These people were converted to leasing on the spot. Why did that happen? Invariably because the sales pitch pushed these two points:

  1. “More car for less money!” That's what we all want, isn't it? And if you listen to the hoopla, leasing delivers that wish. "Lease it for just $199 per month!" And the ad is talking about a car you would pay $350 a month to buy!
  2. "No haggling, no confusing negotiations!" The dream of every car shopper. Lease a vehicle, the sales pitch says, and there’s no pressure and confusion! Everybody should lease!


The Lease Reality

Leasing is simply another way to finance the use of a vehicle. A lease itself isn’t good or bad—it’s a financing tool. In a minute we’ll tell you how it works, and help you decide whether this type of financing tool makes sense for you.

But first, you need to understand the simple reason the industry in the past has pushed leasing over buying: Bigger profits for the dealership! Leasing hasn’t been pushed because it’s better for the customer. It’s been pushed because dealerships usually make a dramatically larger profit leasing you a vehicle versus selling you that same vehicle.

A sorry track record. The industry has made those profits on leasing because of the deceptive way leasing has been presented and sold. The Florida Attorney General’s office says it best: “The technical and complex language and the greed of some car salesmen causes car leasing to be an option that is fraught with many pitfalls for the average customer.”

And that’s an understatement! A typical lease customer, in one study, was overcharged $1,500. One was overcharged $10,500! In one state alone, over forty types of leasing fraud have been identified. Think of that!

And don’t for a minute think the leasing environment must be better in your state, it probably isn’t. So, what’s our first lesson when somebody mentions leasing? Slow down! There’s a lot more to this than you thought.

Just what is a lease? In one way, it’s just like renting a car. You pay for the use of someone else’s vehicle. In a lease, you use the vehicle, you don’t own it. There’s one big difference in leasing and renting, though: If you’re renting a vehicle, you can usually turn it in early if you want to without paying a big penalty. If you’re leasing a vehicle, you may pay a monstrous penalty to turn it in early.

Why do lease payments seem so cheap? Because the lease payment is based on the fact you’re only using the vehicle—you don’t own it at the end of the lease. Your payment is therefore based on use not on ownership. Let’s say you’re leasing a $20,000 car that’s going to be worth $5000 at the end of the lease. When you lease, you only make a payment based on $15,000. If you were buying that same car, your payment would be based on $20,000.

Why have leasing companies been able to make such bigger profits on leasing vs. selling the same vehicle? Because leasing, even with the new lease regulations, doesn’t require as much disclosure as buying a vehicle. Did you know leases don’t tell you an interest rate? Did you know leases don’t clearly tell you what you’re receiving for your trade-in? And did you know leases many times hide the important facts of the lease—the ones that cost you money—in ant-sized print on the back of the lease?

Two hidden dangers of leases. Leases can get you in trouble in many ways, but here are the big problems:

  • Unrealistic mileage restrictions. In a lease, you pay a penalty if you drive a vehicle beyond the miles stated in your lease. For instance, the lease contract might allow you to drive 15,000 miles per year. That’s fine, if you drive 15,000 miles a year. But some leasing companies deliberately give you an unrealistic mileage limit, and then charge you extraordinarily high rates for excess miles. For instance, they know from the miles on your current car you drive 40,000 per year, but the lease contract only gives you a mileage allow of 15,000 miles. Penalties when you run over the 15,000 miles can run thousands of dollars.
  • Excessive wear and tear charges. Own a car, and you can ding it up all you want. It’s yours. But because you don’t own a lease vehicle, you pay money if the vehicle has excess damage over normal wear and tear when you finally give it back to the leasing company. But who determines “normal wear and tear?” The leasing agent, such as the dealership. And many leasing agents in the past have charged customers ridiculous amounts for wear and tear—they’ve turned “wear and tear” into a profit center. What’s your recourse if this happens to you? Virtually none. The lease contract gives the leasing agent the right to do this!


Should I Use a Lease Product or Not?

With all these problems, can a lease or a lease-type product be good for me It can be. You just need to decide which financing tool—a traditional installment loan or a lease-type product—fits your needs. And then you need to make sure you’re dealing with the right people when you’ve made that decision.

If you follow our guidlines and are leasing with a reputable company, leasing could makes sense for you. You decide, using these guidelines.

  1. Do you generally continue to drive a vehicle after you've made the last payment, and enjoy that feeling of "free" driving?
    If so, you're generally not a good candidate for this type of financing. You'll do better to negotiate carefully and buy the car you like. After that last loan payment you'll own an asset (your car) that goes on providing transportation.
  2. Well, why can't I just lease a car to get that low payment and then buy the car at the end of the lease?
    You can. All leases give you that right. But if you decide to buy your vehicle at the end of the lease you’re either going to need another loan right then to buy it, or you’ll need to have a pile of cash available to buy it. If you’ve got the cash, fine. But most people don’t have the cash. They’re forced to get another loan, and end up paying three or four more years on their car. Do you want to be making payments seven years or longer on the same vehicle? Probably not.
  3. Do you always trade for a new car before the old one is paid for?
    Are you the type of person who always has car payments? Welcome to the club! That’s most of us. And there’s nothing wrong with that, if you have carved out a truly affordable monthly vehicle payment as a part of your long-term budget. You’re a good initial candidate for this type of financing. If you're always making payments anyway, it makes sense to make your payment as low as possible.
  4. Just how stable is your job situation?
    And how healthy is your general financial situation? If you buy a car and have trouble making the payments, you have a perfect right to sell that car for as much money as you can to pay off your loan. If you lease a car and have trouble making the payments, you don't have the same rights. In fact, you may experience considerable financial difficulty if you try to break a lease early. Leasing is therefore safest for those who hold a secure job and are in good shape financially.
    • Well, my budget is so tight I barely break even each month. Should I lease? First, if you're having budget problems, you probably shouldn't trade cars at all. Think about fixing up your old car. Talk to us, and maybe we can help you with a "fix it" loan. If you don't want to fix up your old car, think about buying a carefully checked-out used car. We can really help you there. Don’t lease a car if you’re barely meeting your budget.
    • What about leasing if I have poor or nonexistent credit? Stay away from leasing if you have credit problems. These “subprime cut” leases, as they are called, will ruin you and provide you a junker, too. Leases like this are very popular now, because they are the hot, new profit darling of the leasing industry. Most of these leases are on junker used vehicles.
  5. How many miles do you drive a year?
    This is an important question! Most lease payments are based on the fact you will drive no more than 12,000 miles a year during the lease. Some leases (usually a “sale” lease payment) are based on a paltry 10,000-mile yearly driving mileage allowance. You put that on a car going up and down your driveway. So, imagine what’s going to happen if you are a high-mileage commuter who drives 40,000 miles per year. On an average three-year lease, do you know how much cash you would need to hand over to the leasing company because of those extra miles? From $5,000 to $11,000! What’s the moral here? If you're a high-mileage driver, a leasing-type product may not be for you unless you make absolutely sure the lease is based on the actual miles you’ll drive.
  6. Are you stable financially, but yearning for more car for the payment?
    If you are comfortable with constant payments but want more car for the same payment, then a financing tool like a lease can be a good option. Maybe you need a bigger car, for instance, because the family has grown. Or simply like the looks of that electric red convertible. If you're careful, a leasing-type tool can be good for you.


Next: The Reward

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