Consumers have embraced new-car leasing in a big way the past few years as a way to help keep monthly payments low, or simply as a way to drive a better vehicle for the money.
According to Experian Automotive in Schaumburg, Illinois, leasing accounts for 31 percent of all new-vehicle transactions.
Unfortunately, the process is not without its pitfalls.
Specifically, it can be difficult — and prohibitively costly — to terminate the contract. That’s because a lease is typically binding for the length of the term, which can leave a lessee who can’t make the payments because of financial hardship in default.
Likewise, those who’ve entered a new stage in life and simply need a different type of vehicle can get stuck making payments on a model that no longer meets their needs.
Though contract terms vary, as do state regulations regarding leasing, someone who needs or wants to break the contract is generally required to make the remaining lease payments, as well as pay an early termination fee, the costs of preparing the vehicle for resale and a charge for negative equity between what’s owed and the current value of the car or truck. This can lead those who find themselves in dire straits headed to bankruptcy court.
Fortunately, there are other ways to get out of a lease that can prevent financial calamity, though some might be more practical or possible than others, depending on the situation.
First and foremost, if you’re having trouble making payments, call the leasing company to see if they’ll work with you in the meantime to avoid default. They might agree to lower or suspend payments for a few months while you regain your financial footing, though you’ll have to cover any delayed payments later, and with interest.
You may be able to sell the car or truck and use the proceeds to pay off the contract in a so-called early buyout, which is, of course, subject to the terms of the lease agreement. You’ll still be responsible for the termination fee and depreciation costs, however.
And while it may be no solution if you’re on shaky financial ground, it’s possible to trade-in the vehicle and either lease or buy another one, with any charges incurred wrapped into the new deal. Automakers sometimes offer special promotions to lessees to get them into new vehicles before their contracts expire without suffering a penalty.
Another solution is to transfer the lease to another party. To that end, companies like Swapalease.com and LeaseTrader.com are essentially online marketplaces consumers can use to transfer the remainder of their leases to other parties seeking a shorter-term commitment than the typical 24-to-39-month period.
You’ll be charged a nominal fee to list a vehicle, and another amount when the transfer is processed. Be aware that if your lease payment is higher than normal (either initiated to balance out a lower than average down payment, or simply because you got a bad deal in the first place), you’ll be required to come up with some incentive money, which can be as high as several thousand dollars, to facilitate a transfer.
You may also be required to pay a transfer fee to the leasing company, as well as state license/registration fees.
And be aware that lease transfers are ultimately subject to approval by the automaker or leasing company that initiated the original contract, with some being more aggregable to the proposition than others.