What Key Numbers Do I Need to Know?
There are five:
1. Sale price: Your lease payment is based in part on the sale price of the car. Just like when you buy a car, the lower the sale price, the lower the lease payment. To make sure you're getting a fair sale price, check out Edmunds average price paid, also known as True Market Value (TMV®). This tool tells you what other people are paying for the same car.
2. Residual percentage and amount: The residual value of the car is expressed as a percentage, and it's an important part of your deal. The higher the residual percentage, the lower the amount of depreciation you have to pay. In other words, a high residual percentage should net you a lower monthly payment. The residual is also the amount you would pay the bank if you decided you wanted to purchase your leased car at the end of the term.
3. Allotted miles and the over-mileage charge: When you sign your lease, you're allowed to drive a certain number of miles annually. If you exceed that, you'll be charged a fee, usually assessed in cents per mile. They can be high: from 15 to 25 cents per mile. If you think you're going to go over the mileage limit, you can add extra miles when you sign your lease agreement for a small increase in payment. This will likely be cheaper than paying the overage later. If you do go over your miles but you've decided to buy the car when the lease is over, you will not be charged for going over the allotted miles.
4. Disposition fee. This fee is charged by the leasing company to cover the expense of cleaning up and selling the car after you return it at the end of the lease. Most charge between $300 and $400. You normally won't be able to avoid this charge unless you buy the car at the end of the lease or, in some cases, lease or purchase another car of the same brand.
5. Money factor: This is the lease equivalent of the annual percentage rate (APR) in a car-purchase loan. As with an APR, the lower the money factor, the better. Unlike an APR, it's unlikely that the dealership will offer you a lower money factor than you got with your credit union or bank. Money factors are very small numbers, such as .00125 or .00074. Multiply by 2,400 to get the equivalent APR.
How Do I Know If I'm Getting a Good Deal?
Lease specials are the quickest way to find a good deal:
- Edmunds lists attractive leases from different carmakers at Edmunds.com $199 Lease Deals of the Month.
- Nearly every carmaker has lease specials posted on its website. The cars in these lease specials are usually priced below the manufacturer suggested retail price (MSRP) and often represent a good deal.
- Dealership websites are also a good place to check for lease specials. Many dealerships showcase lease specials that have been tailored to fit the local market, and the terms are often lower than those being offered by the carmaker.
If a dealership offers a lease that is at or below the offers made by the carmaker or the Edmunds.com $199 Lease Deals of the Month, you're in pretty good shape. If you want to shave off every nickel from your lease payment, you'll have to shop for your deal, just as you would if you were buying a car. There are a few differences between shopping for a lease and shopping for a car to buy, so here are some steps to follow:
- When it comes to traditional car buying, many shoppers look to lower the car's price first, and then they work out the other details, such as the APR and taxes. When you're searching for a lease, you want to look for the best overall lease deal, not just a low selling price on the car. For most people considering a lease, the best deal boils down to two factors: the lowest amount to pay to begin the loan (the "out of pocket," in lease-speak) and lowest total monthly payment.
- Get lease quotes from three different dealers. A phone call or email to a dealership's internet salesperson should take care of it.
- As you shop, you need to compare the same terms, so ask the dealers for a lease quote that clearly states the total initial out-of-pocket amount, not just the down payment. This quote should include registration, taxes and all fees. The same applies to the quote for the monthly payment. Specify that you want the total monthly payment, including taxes.
- Once you've got the deal that makes the most sense, ask the dealer for a complete breakdown of the selling price, the residual value and the money factor. To be sure the car's sale price is the same or less than what other shoppers in your area are paying, compare it to Edmunds' average price paid.