Should You Buy or Lease a Car?

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If you’re ready for a new car, you’re likely asking yourself what type of car you want, whether to upgrade to a larger ride and which color you prefer. But here’s another question you should be asking yourself: Should you lease or buy?

Most people finance their vehicles or pay in cash, but leasing has some benefits too. How do you decide? In the video below, Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson explains how to choose between owning and leasing. Check it out and read on for more details.

What does leasing really cost?

Leasing typically has lower monthly payments than buying, which is its greatest appeal. But your monthly payment isn’t the only amount to consider. To get the best deal – and keep the most money in your pocket – calculate the actual cost overall for both buying and leasing.

Here’s an example: Say you find a car with a $30,000 purchase price. You finance the purchase at 3 percent for 36 months with a $1,000 cash down payment. Assuming you don’t have a trade-in, your monthly payment would be $872 and you’d pay $31,392 overall.

Let’s see what happens when you lease the same car for 36 months with $1,000 down. Assuming a monthly payment of $500, you’d pay $19,000 overall.

In 36 months you decide you don’t want the car anymore. If you financed, you could sell the car for its current value – say, $18,000. So owning the car for three years has now cost you only $13,392. If you leased it, you can’t sell it, so your total is still at $19,000 — thus making it much less expensive to purchase the car.

Granted, this is a simple example that doesn’t take into account the upfront fee to lease the car, sales tax and other factors. To do the math for your specific situation, try several online calculators, such as’s auto loan and auto lease calculator. Bankrate has a questionnaire you can fill out.

Repair bills

Whether you buy or lease your new car, it’s likely covered for at least the first three years by a warranty. Older cars, as we know, become more expensive to repair over time as major parts wear out. The person leasing a car (or the person who buys a new car every three years) won’t have to worry about those types of expenses.

However, you will be required to keep the leased car in pristine condition. Any dings or dents beyond normal wear and tear will cost you extra when you turn the car in. Consider having them repaired before that deadline.

Higher costs and extra fees

Leasing comes with some higher out-of-pocket costs and some potential fees:

  • Gap insurance. It’s wise and often required to have extra insurance — called gap insurance — on a leased car so that the replacement cost is covered in the event you total it. Likewise, gap insurance is also recommended when you buy a new car and the amount you owe is greater than what the car is worth as its value depreciates.
  • Mileage limit. Leases come with a limit on the number of miles you can drive the car — often 15,000 miles a year. Exceed that limit and you’ll pay a large per-mile penalty when you turn the car in.
  • Early-termination penalty. Getting out of a lease early will cost you a penalty — generally the remainder of what you owe on the lease. However, you might be able to transfer the lease to someone else. To accomplish that, check out sites like and Swapalease. You’ll pay a fee, and the company leasing you the car will have to approve the transfer, but it’s an option.

What if leasing is for you?

Despite the drawbacks, leasing may be your better option if you want to drive a new car every two or three years, you need a car for a limited amount of time, or you need a new car for your business but simply can’t afford the higher payments to finance one. Things to be aware of when negotiating a lease:

  • Capitalized cost of the car. That’s the price of the car plus the acquisition fee, and it is negotiable. Just as you wouldn’t pay the full sticker price when buying a car, you should haggle for a lower capitalized cost of a leased car.
  • The “money factor.” That’s the interest or lease rate calculated into your monthly payment. It too is negotiable, so shop for the lowest rate.
  • The residual value. That’s what the car should be worth when the lease ends. The residual value subtracted from the capitalized cost will determine the cost of your lease. A lower depreciation rate will mean a higher residual value and lower monthly lease rate.
  • Fees and more fees. There can be many, so you need to read the contract carefully before you sign — for example, the price of excess mileage and excess wear and tear.

Which do you prefer — buying or leasing a car? Tell us about your experience on our Facebook page.

Karen Datko contributed to this post.

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Comments & discussion

We welcome your opinions, but let’s keep it civil. Like many businesses, we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone. In our case, that means those who communicate by name-calling, racism, using words designed to hurt others or generally acting like an uninformed bully. Also, comments that include links to email addresses or commercial websites typically aren't posted. This isn't a place to advertise your business.

  • John Hughes

    You forgot about the higher insurance coverage that the leaser wants you to carry.

  • Selena Barton

    Personally, at the end of 3 years, I have a car I don’t have to make payments on. Leasing you will always have a payment. GIve me my babied bought car any day over a payment every month for something I won’t have anything for when the payments end. Had an uncle that always leased, and in the end, he decided it wasn’t worth it when he started to seriously look at all the money that got tacked on in the end. Even with the best deal up front, they can fee the devil out of it when they get it back for the lease.

  • matt wilkinson

    Dave Ramsey calls leasing “fleecing” and there’s a reason why…99 times out of a 100 the consumer comes out on the losing end of the deal.

  • Rob Delisa

    The big problem was the $500 payment which is extremely for a lease on a $30k car

  • Rob Delisa

    The example here ignores the fact that that the buyer still has to replace the car to get back the equity unless he/she plans on not driving anymore. And if you keep it, you may not have any payments, but you will ultimately have to pay repair and maintenance costs.According to Edmunds research and TCO tool, this averages around $6,000 every 5 years on a 3-5 year old car.

    But, a better way to compare leasing versus buying is to get on Edmunds and calculate the total 5-year cost of ownership versus making 60 months of lease payments on two different cars. In my specific case, I came out ahead with my 60 months of $213.00 lease payments. We’re splitting hairs, here on the difference, but most leasing skeptics really don’t take into consideration the full benefits of leasing. Dave Ramsey is a smart guy overall, but is really clueless when it comes to leasing cars.