Money Saving Advice
There's more than one way to get most for your money. For more than 20 years, Gary Foreman has worked to manage money effectively. He's been a Certified Financial Planner and Purchasing Manager. He currently edits The Dollar Stretcher Web site and several newsletters. His mission is to help people "Live Better for Less."

The Dollar Stretcher: Is it Better to Lease or Buy?

Dear Gary,
Is it better financially to buy or lease an automobile since it's a depreciating asset? Mark

Answer: Like most people, Mark is probably attracted to the lower monthly payments of an auto lease. But, even with the lower payments it's usually better to buy. There are a couple of reasons that's true. You don't build up equity in a leased auto. You'll also be prone to trade cars more often and you give up flexibility if you need to get rid of the car quickly.

Mark's question points to the main reason why leasing isn't the best deal. A car is a depreciating asset. And a car depreciates more quickly when it's newer. A $15,000 car will lose approximately 25% of it's value in the first year. From year two through year six the car will lose between 6 and 9% each year with the bigger loses in the earlier years.

Once you lease an auto you're much more likely to drive a new car every few years. And the first miles are the most expensive that you can put on a car. Your cost of ownership drops dramatically if you keep a car 6 or 7 years.

For instance, if you drive 12,000 miles per year, the depreciation alone during the first year on a $15,000 car will cost you 31 cents per mile. By the time you get to the sixth year those miles only cost 7 cents each. Clearly those first couple of years are very expensive ones.

Let's take a look at a fairly typical dealer ad. It offers a popular new model for $13,998 with 1.9% financing or a four year lease with $1,000 down and monthly payments of $249.

If Mark takes the lease deal, he'll pay a total of $12,952 over the 48 month period including his $1,000 down payment. So he's pretty much paid for the entire car. But, when the lease ends he won't own the car. He'll be required to turn it in. And, if he's put on more mileage than the lease allows or the car shows any unusual signs of wear, Mark will face extra charges.

Suppose he chooses to buy the car instead. He'll spend $13,508 over a 48 month period. That assumes a $1,000 down payment and the 1.9% financing. His monthly payment would be $281. Not much more than the lease.

Let's suppose that Mark's credit isn't good enough to qualify for the 1.9% financing. We'll assume that he pays today's average rate of 8.4%. That would bump his monthly payment to $319. That's $70 more each month than the lease, but he'll be building equity in the car.

The big advantage to buying comes at the end of the 4 years. He'll own the car outright. It will be worth approximately half of it's original $13,998 purchase price. So he'll end up with an asset of about $7,000 that he can continue to drive.

If he had leased there would be few choices. He could buy his old car from the leasing company. That would mean adding a couple more years of payments. He could be paying 6 or 7 years on the same $14,000 car! Or he could turn the car in and go find something else. Probably another lease. And he'd join the ranks of those who will always be driving new, but expensive cars.

Maybe Mark is concerned with the reliability of a four year old car. Most cars can give more than four years of dependable service. But let's buy an extended warrantee that would cover the car until it's six years old for an additional $850. So instead of signing a new lease at $250 per month, he's spending about $35 a month for the extended warrantee. In the fifth and six year he'll have saved $5,100 on lease fees plus he'll have his old car to use as a down payment for a newer car.

Besides the ownership issue, a lease could set Mark up for a nasty surprise. Sure, he expects to drive the car for four years. But everything doesn't always go according to plan. A lost job or sick child could make that car payment too big to handle. If he should need to get out of the deal early, it's harder to terminate a lease. Most carry a hefty penalty if you want to turn the car in early.

If you've purchased the car it will still be costly to sell it after a year or two. But you will have the opportunity to offer it to whoever is willing to give you the most money. Unfortunately with a lease you don't have that option.

OK, one final argument. What happens if Mark can only afford the $249 per month. Maybe $319 is too much for his budget. The correct answer for Mark still isn't to lease. It's to find a car that he can buy that fits within his budget. It might be smaller. Maybe used. But at the end of four years he'll own a car instead of walking away from the dealership empty handed.

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Gary Foreman is a former purchasing manager who currently edits The Dollar Stretcher Web site Contact Gary at You'll find hundreds of free articles to save you time and money. Visit today!