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3 Ways to Turn Your Lease Into Cash

Leverage the equity in your leased car

(updated August 29th, 2023)

Auto finance companies are pretty good at predicting residual value, which means what a car will be worth at the end of the lease term. They're good because they have to be — the residual value is typically the basis of the lease calculation. But sometimes there are fluctuations in the marketplace, and some vehicles might be worth more than the residual value. The COVID-19 pandemic was one of these shifts.

Used car values soared due to a perfect storm of semiconductor chip shortages and supply chain delays that made new cars scarce over the past few years. These market forces, in turn, shifted consumer demand, causing a shortage of used vehicles and leaving dealerships in dire need of inventory. As a result, your expiring lease vehicle might have more value than expected, according to the Edmunds experts.

"Used prices have slightly cooled from their peak in 2022 but remain extremely elevated from pre-pandemic prices," said Jessica Caldwell, Edmunds' executive director of insights.

The good news for lessees is this isn't likely to change tremendously, as the supply of used vehicles will remain tight for the next few years, which will keep prices high, said Caldwell.

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Make Money Off Your Expiring Lease

With this in mind, you'll first need to determine if your current car lease has any equity. The residual value is also the amount you can buy the car for at the end of the lease, so you're looking to see if the car's current value is higher than the residual value. Since you usually have the right to buy the car at the end of the lease term for that residual value, you can profit from a lease company's inaccurate lower estimate. If, on the other hand, the car is worth less than the residual amount, you can turn the car in without incurring any extra expense.

What finance companies allow a lease buyout?

This strategy isn't quite available to everyone. A number of automotive finance arms do not allow a third-party buyout of the leased vehicle. And the list has grown in recent years, as dealerships that often relied on lease returns to stock their used car inventory now find themselves in serious need of cars to fill their lots and showrooms. Brands including Acura, BMW, Honda and General Motors changed their rules in 2021 to ban the sale of leased vehicles to third-party buyers. In other words, you could get your vehicle appraised on Edmunds to get an independent quote on its value, but you would not be able to redeem the offer at one of our participating dealerships. In this scenario, the remaining options would be to take your vehicle to any dealership of the same brand and get an offer for it, or else purchase it from the lease company directly. See steps two and three for more information.

We try to keep this list up to date, but rules are constantly changing. Please double check with your leasing company to know what your options are. Note that in some of the restricted cases below (e.g., Audi and Volkswagen), a third-party buyout may be allowed if the buyer is a dealership, not an individual. So be sure to read the fine print to be fully clear on your options.

Auto finance companies that have partial or complete restrictions on third-party off-lease buyouts:

  • Audi Financial

  • Acura Financial

  • BMW Financial Services

  • Ford Credit

  • GM Financial

  • Honda Finance

  • Hyundai Motor Financial

  • Infiniti Financial Services

  • Kia Motors Finance

  • Lincoln Credit

  • Mazda Credit

  • Mercedes-Benz Financial

  • Nissan Motor Acceptance

  • Southeast Toyota Financial

  • Tesla

  • Volkswagen Credit

  • Volvo Financial

Auto finance companies that have no significant restrictions on third-party off-lease buyouts:

  • Chrysler Capital (including Chrysler, Dodge, Ram, Jeep and Fiat vehicles)

  • Mitsubishi Motors Credit of America

  • Toyota Financial Services

Source: CarMax

Do I have equity in my lease?

If you want to make use of possible equity, your first stop should be Edmunds' car appraisal page. There, you can get the trade-in and private-party values of the car. We'll also give you the option to receive an instant offer on your vehicle, which gives you a solid price to have as a point of comparison.

Next, find the residual value in your lease contract. Subtract the residual value from the trade-in value and this is the approximate equity you might have. Knowing the current market value of your leased car and showing the dealership you've done your research on pricing will strengthen your negotiating position.

If your car is a year or more away from the end of the lease term and you want to check for current equity, call your leasing company and ask for a buyout price. Subtract the buyout price from the current market value of the car to see if you have equity.

3 ways to turn equity into cash

If you have equity in your leased car, here's how to turn it into cash. Keep in mind, though, that these strategies may not apply to everyone:

1. Sell your leased car and get a check. The fastest way to sell your leased car is to get an Edmunds instant offer, which is good for seven days and is redeemable at participating car dealerships. Just enter a few details about your vehicle and soon you'll have a price for your vehicle that can be paid out that same day. Not all leased vehicles have equity, of course. But as your lease return date draws near, keep an eye on its market value.

The used car superstore CarMax is another place where you can go to get equity from a leased vehicle. In most cases, you can sell your leased vehicle to CarMax in almost the same way as any other financed car, according to the company. It will appraise the car or truck, then contact the leasing company for a payoff quote and process any equity you might have.

You can also take your car to any other dealer, not just the one where you arranged the lease, and let the dealer buy the car at the trade-in price. The dealer will pay the leasing company what you owe and give you a check for the equity. However, don't expect the money immediately in this scenario. The dealership will mail you a check once it gets a clear title, assuring that your car doesn't have any outstanding parking tickets. Ask to get the trade-in agreement in writing and state the amount due to you, just in case.

2. Sell your leased car to a neighbor, friend or family member. This method requires a bit of trust, so it helps to sell your car to someone you know. But you can sell to any buyer you find, and you'll be able to get the private-party price for the car, which is higher than the trade-in price that dealers pay.

Here's what you do: After finding a trusted buyer, have that person mail a check for the buyout amount to the leasing company. Once you receive the title (the leasing company will only send it to the person leasing the car), sign it to release your interest in the vehicle, and give the title to the buyer. The buyer can then register the car and pay sales tax at that time. But be careful: If the buyer waits longer than 10 days, the state might try to charge you both sales tax, which would wipe out your profit.

A way to prevent this situation, according to the Auto Club of Southern California, is to pay the sales tax and DMV fees as soon as possible and then return to the DMV to conclude the deal with the title in hand. This transaction is called a "lease buyout transfer." Contact your state's DMV for more details.

3. Use the equity as the down payment on your next car. In this scenario, the equity in your current car becomes a cash down payment for the new one. Once you know you have equity, you can take your car to any dealer to begin a new lease or sales contract. In fact, used car prices are so good now that they will soften the blow of buying or leasing a new one since roughly 80% of car shoppers today are paying over MSRP. Not all dealers will offer you the same amount for your leased-car buyout, so you might have to shop around for the best offer. The amount should be close to or better than the Edmunds trade-in price.

Dianne Whitmire, fleet and internet director for West Coast Toyota in Long Beach, California, said she uses the equity in returning lease cars to help her customers in a variety of ways. She had one customer with two cars — one was a leased vehicle with equity and one a purchased car that was "upside down," meaning that the loan balance was greater than the car was worth. "In that case, one washes the other" to pay off the loan, she explains. Experts say you might get more money if you are going "brand to brand," meaning selling a Toyota to a Toyota dealership, although any dealership can handle the transaction.

It's important to make sure all the numbers add up. Agree on the exact amount of equity you will receive and look for that amount in the down payment box on the contract. Alternatively, you can also use the equity to pay the fees required to begin a new lease rather than pay that money out of pocket. Finally, if you live in a state that allows a trade-in vehicle to reduce the sales tax, you may want to chat with the dealership to see what the best option is. See this article for more on which states allow this.

Which vehicles have the most equity for 2023?

Edmunds analysts looked at the estimated residual values for 2019 model year vehicles leased in January and February of 2019 and compared those residuals to the trade-in values for similar vehicles that were traded in during January and February of 2022. Edmunds data showed that, on average, the trade-in value for a 2019 vehicle whose lease ended in 2022 reflected an increase of $7,208, or 33%, compared to its original estimated residual value.

See Edmunds pricing data

Has Your Car's Value Changed?

Used car values are constantly changing. Edmunds lets you track your vehicle's value over time so you can decide when to sell or trade in.

Price history graph example

Leased Vehicles With the Greatest Difference in 2023 Trade-in Value vs. Original Estimated Residual Value From 2020 (sorted by difference in percent)

Edmunds logo
in 2020
in Dollars
in Percent
HondaAccord Hybrid$17,275$24,465$7,19042%
ToyotaRAV4 Hybrid$22,129$30,203$8,07436%
ToyotaPrius Prime$17,665$24,023$6,35836%
BuickEncore GX$15,283$20,085$4,80231%
ToyotaCamry Hybrid$17,944$23,547$5,60331%
LexusES 350$24,285$30,009$5,72424%
HondaCR-V Hybrid$21,319$26,080$4,76122%
JeepGrand Cherokee$23,939$29,097$5,15822%
NissanRogue Sport$15,121$18,369$3,24821%

Edmunds says: If you're heading to the dealership to turn in your leased vehicle, it's smart to check its value. If you don't, there's a chance you could be walking away from thousands of dollars in cash. That's particularly true now for owners of SUVs and trucks.


Are leased cars good to buy?
Buying a leased car is a good idea for those looking to break the cycle of leasing and get into a used car. You're the original owner, so this eliminates the need to look into the vehicle's history or do any research on whether you like the car. The prices may not be negotiable, so make sure you focus your efforts on determining whether the buyout price is fair.

Which cars are leased the most?
The top five leased vehicles in early 2023 were the Ford F-150, Chevrolet Equinox, Chevrolet Silverado 1500, Nissan Rogue and Jeep Grand Cherokee, according to the most recent data from Experian. The top three leased brands overall were Honda, Chevrolet and Nissan among non-luxury brands and BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi among luxury brands.

What is an off-lease car?
An off-lease car is an industry term for a vehicle whose lease has expired and is now being sold as a used car. Many certified pre-owned vehicles are typically off-lease cars since they are a few years old and have relatively low miles.

What is the cheapest car to lease?
The cheapest car to lease would likely be the base model of subcompact vehicle. But in general, a lease can be configured to have as low a payment as you'd like, provided you make a large enough down payment. The key is to strike a balance between a low monthly payment and a low down payment. Edmunds maintains a list of Best Car, Truck and SUV Lease Deals Under $299. Read it for more information on cheap leasing options.


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