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Things to consider before leasing a car

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Leasing a car is one way to lower your monthly car payment, but not everyone is a good candidate for leasing. For one, leasing a car usually limits the number of miles you can drive per year, and you may have to contend with a number of fees at the end of your lease. However, if you’re looking for a relatively affordable way to drive new vehicles, it could be worth pursuing.

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Key takeaway
Extra charges can quickly negate the value you get from leasing a car. Before leasing, consider your anticipated usage, any upfront fees and whether you want the flexibility of an early trade-in.

What to consider before leasing a car

Before deciding to sign off on a new lease, take these factors into account.

How many miles you drive

All car leases have mileage limits, usually 12,000 miles annually or less, so if you drive more than that, you could end up with a hefty bill at the end of your lease. Additional miles are charged at a per-mile rate, which can add up significantly if you exceed your limit.

Calculate how many miles you drive annually and think about how likely that is to change over the length of a lease. If you’re expecting to take a lot of road trips, a lease may not be right for you.

How well you care for your car

When a leased car is returned, it will be sold, most likely at wholesale auction. Because of this, the car dealer wants to see the car in perfect shape to garner the highest price.

Be prepared to be charged for any excessive scratches, door dings, dents, interior stains, upholstery rips or damage from accidents. It may be cheaper to fix the damage yourself before turning in the car than it is to wait for the leasing company’s charges for the same repairs.

How many upfront costs you’ll face

While the big appeal of leasing is a lower monthly car payment, many people don’t consider the initial costs to get into a lease. You’ll need to pay taxes (at least a portion of them), title fees, licensing fees, dealer documentation fees and prep charges at the lease signing.

The lease may also come with a down payment, sometimes called an acquisition fee or a drive-off fee. This can add up to thousands of dollars. When comparing the cost of leasing versus buying your vehicle, make sure that you include all of the fees you’ll encounter.

How much flexibility you need

One of the benefits of leasing is that you don’t keep the car for as long as you would if you bought it. Even still, you may want to exit your lease before it’s up if you’re unhappy with the car. However, getting out of a lease early is expensive and, in some cases, more difficult than selling or trading in a car you own.

If you’re not sure whether you’ll be happy with the car for the duration of the lease, consider buying instead. You can also check to see if your contract allows lease transfers, which is the only affordable way to get out of a lease early — provided you can find someone to take over your lease.

The bottom line

Although there are both pros and cons to leasing a car, this option isn’t right for every driver. If you want to experience different higher-end vehicles while keeping your monthly payments low, go for it. But if you drive a lot and want to avoid mileage limits, leasing might not be the best option. Take advantage of a leasing versus buying calculator to weigh the cost difference before signing off on a new auto lease.

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Written by
Rebecca Betterton
Auto Loans Reporter
Rebecca Betterton is the auto loans reporter for Bankrate. She specializes in assisting readers in navigating the ins and outs of securely borrowing money to purchase a car.
Edited by
Student loans editor