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11 Things to Know Before You Lease a Car

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

Nearly one quarter of new cars in America are sold under lease agreement, and low monthly payments entice buyers who want to drive new cars, but don’t want to deal with a large cash outlay.

Lessees don’t build equity in their vehicle, but for the right person, a lease can be a good option. These are things you need to know before you consider a lease.

1. The best way to think about a lease

It’s best to think of a lease as a pay for use contract. A lease allows you to pay for the depreciation you put onto a vehicle at a reasonable interest rate. You get to drive and depreciate a vehicle for a certain period of time then you can walk away.

Due to higher markups, higher interest rates and additional fees, leasing tends to be an unfavorable financing mechanism, but if you don’t care about owning the car, a lease may be a good option for you.

As a lessee, you will drive the car during its most rapid depreciation phase, so in the long run, continuously leasing a vehicle is the most expensive way to drive, but if you always want to drive a new car, leasing can be a low hassle way to make that happen.

2. Leasing affects your credit score

Taking on a lease affects your credit the same way that taking on a car loan affects your credit. Applying for a lease triggers a credit inquiry on your report, which has a small adverse effect on your credit score. Taking on a lease increases credit utilization which also adversely affects your credit score. Over time your credit utilization will fall, and timely payment history will cause your score to increase again.

Leases are considered installment loans, and having a high utilization rate on installment loans does not have as much of an adverse effect on your credit score as having high utilization on credit cards or other forms of revolving credit. As with any form of credit, late or skipped lease payments drag down your score

Further Reading: Credit Score Guide

3. Leasing terminology

Manufacturers and salespeople shroud leasing in complex jargon. To understand the terms of your lease, these are the definitions you need to know.

  • Capitalized Cost: The price of the vehicle. This could be MSRP (Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price), or it could be reduced based on your negotiations.
  • Capital Cost Reduction: This is a down payment. The most favorable leases (for those who don’t intend to purchase at the end of the lease) should not include a capital cost reduction unless it’s an incentive.
  • Residual Value: This is the estimated value of the car at the end of the lease. The higher this price is relative to the capitalized cost, the more favorable it is to lease a car. Cars.com keeps a database of residual values on file that you can use to understand if you’re getting a fair residual value.
  • Factor, Money Factor or Rate: This is the interest rate of your loan, but it’s not expressed as an annual percentage rate. The number expressed needs to be multiplied by 2.4 to get to an APR. For example a 1.35 money factor is a 3.24% interest rate. LeaseHackr.com keeps an up to date list of “official” factors (column entitled MF) that you can use in negotiations. Interest rates on leases range from 2-3 times as high as interest rates on traditional car loans, but it is possible to negotiate this rate.

4. You can negotiate a lease

Unlike car loans, leases come from car manufacturers rather than banks. However, this doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to negotiate a lease. Anyone who intends to lease should try to drive down the capitalized cost, and people with good credit should also look to reduce or even eliminate the money factor. Small fees like documents fees, tire fees and more can be waived completely if you take the time to negotiate.

Even if a dealership advertises a “Manufacturer’s Leasing Special”, you should negotiate the terms of the lease. Salespeople depend on getting you to drive away in a new car, so consumers hold upper hand in negotiations.

5. No money down

One advantage of leasing a vehicle is that it shifts depreciation risk from the customer to the manufacturer. A down payment (or a capital cost reduction) shifts the risk back onto the customer. In a lease, a down payment is a form of pre-payment. If you terminate the lease before the end of the lease period (if your car is totaled or stolen), you lose the benefit that the down payment purchased. Putting no money down is an important strategy for keeping the lease in the lessee’s favor.

6. Extra insurance costs

Leasing yields lower monthly payments compared to buying using traditional financing, but some of the monthly cash flow advantage is lost by increased insurance costs. To protect themselves financially, lessees should purchase “Gap Insurance” in addition to traditional car insurance.

Gap insurance covers the difference between the actual cash value and the amount owed on a lease. As soon as a lessee drives the car off the lot, the car is worth less than the lessee owes on their lease. If a car is totaled or stolen during a lease period, you need to be able to buyout the lease early, and gap insurance allows you to do that. Gap insurance should be purchased through a traditional insurer, and adds anywhere from 3-10% to the traditional cost of insurance.

7. Fees, fees, fees

Every lessee runs into at least three substantial fees during the course of their lease. The first fee is an acquisition fee (alternatively called a financing fee). This fee is not a down payment, but it runs anywhere from $500 for basic compact cars to nearly $1,000 for luxury vehicles.

Dealerships also charge a $300-$900 Delivery Charge which covers the cost of the vehicle being delivered to the dealership lot. Lessees need to be prepared to pay this fee upfront, but some companies try to sneak a second delivery fee into the contracts. The second delivery fee can be negotiated to zero.

The last fee every lessee will encounter is either a disposition fee or a purchase option fee. These fees run between $300-$400 depending on which option you choose. When a lease ends, you will pay a fee to the dealership unless you negotiate it away at the outset.

In addition to these larger fees, many lessees will run into mileage overage fees which range from $.15 per mile for basic vehicles to $.30 for luxury vehicles. Most people drive more than their lease allows, and these extra miles cause additional depreciation on the vehicle. Since a lease is a “pay for what you use agreement”, it’s fair to pay for those extra miles. Of course you can avoid overage fees by limiting the amount you drive or by purchasing the car at the end of the lease.

You should negotiate smaller fees like advertising fees, tire fees, document fees, vehicle preparation fees down to zero.

8. Repairs required

Lessees bear the financial burden of repairs and maintenance on their leased vehicles. Some dealerships offer free tire rotation and oil changes, but the lessee has to pay for other maintenance. New cars shouldn’t require much maintenance, but accidents, chipped paint and broken windshields need to be paid for, and longer lessees may need to buy new tires while they own the vehicles

9. Exit options

Turning in a leased vehicle early is akin to defaulting on a car loan. Your credit will take a hit, and you will still owe money. However, it is possible to “sublet” your car through websites like SwapALease and LeaseTrader.

If your lease is about to end, you’ll have to decide whether or not to purchase the car or return it. If you want to buy the vehicle, you may be able to negotiate the buyout price. If you have the cash on hand to pay for the vehicle, and the purchase price is lower than an equivalent used car, you can purchase the vehicle outright and sell it for instant equity. If you have to obtain financing, the additional fees may erase any favorable pricing you obtained.

If the vehicle is worth less than the purchase price at the end of your lease, you should probably walk away from the vehicle or attempt some strong negotiations. Of course, the beauty of a lease is that the termination of the lease means that you can hand the keys back to the dealer and move on. 

10. Consider leasing if…

Anyone with midterm vehicle needs (only needing a vehicle for a few years) may find that a lease is a good value and a good fit for their lifestyle. Likewise, anyone who loves driving new cars and doesn’t mind having a monthly payment may enjoy leasing long term.

Continuously leasing vehicles is more expensive than “driving a vehicle into the ground,” but many people don’t mind that they get what they pay for.  People who enjoy driving newer, fancier cars may find that leasing can be a reasonable lifestyle, especially if they can easily afford the payment.

11. Avoid leasing if… 

Avoid leasing if you’re trying to drive as inexpensively as possible. The low monthly payments are enticing, but leasing is the most expensive way to drive in the long run. Leasing has high interest rates and high fees. If you can’t afford the monthly payments associated with owning a new car, consider buying used or choosing a basic model. Both of these methods end up being cheaper than leasing.

If you drive a lot, or if you frequently drive in poor conditions, you’re a bad candidate for leasing. The additional depreciation may mean that you’re left paying extra fees at the end of your lease. Additionally, anyone seeking to own a vehicle should pursue paying cash or taking out a traditional loan rather than leasing.

If you decide to purchase your vehicle instead of leasing it, it is best practice to get pre-approved for your auto loan before heading over to the dealership. [Disclosure: LendingTree is the parent company of MagnifyMoney.]We recommend starting with LendingTree. There are hundreds of lenders on this platform. After filling out your application, you will be able to see real interest rates and approval information at once.

Keep in mind, some lenders will do a hard pull on your credit and this is normal within the auto lending space. Multiple hard pulls only count as one pull, so it is smart to have all your hard pulls done at once, which LendingTree’s tool can do for you.

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Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Hannah Rounds
Hannah Rounds |

Hannah Rounds is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Hannah here

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Auto Loan

Car-Buying Secrets Dealerships Don’t Want You to Know

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

Buying a car is one of the biggest purchases most of us will make and dealerships don’t have the best reputation for making the process easier or cheaper. Car buyers are increasingly distrustful that they’re getting the best deal possible at the dealership. We’ll let you in on nine car-buying secrets dealerships don’t want you to know. These tips will help you navigate the car-buying process and may even save you money.

Secrets dealerships don’t want you to know

Here are the biggest tips that could help you save the most money in car buying.

1. Focus on price, not the monthly payment.

Twenty bucks, give or take, on your monthly payment might not look like a lot, but it adds up over the life of a five-year (or longer) loan. Dealers are counting on the fact that your focus will be on your monthly budget and work hard to inch up that payment. Even a few dollars can mask a high APR, add-ons and other fees, especially if they’re spread over a long term, as long as 84 months.

TIP: Focus instead on the “out the door” price, which is the total of the car price plus all taxes and fees.

2. You’re in charge.

Salespeople like to mix numbers — new car price, trade-in value, financing — which makes it more difficult for you to keep track. You can insist on talking about each thing separately by using a favorite dealership tool to your advantage. It’s called a “four square,” a sheet of paper divided into four boxes, and is used to (mis)direct your attention to all of the advantages the salesperson wants to discuss. Write on the four square yourself to direct the salesperson’s attention to what you want to discuss. You can see an example of the four square and read up on the people you might meet at the dealership here.

3. Use NADA to value cars like a dealer.

The National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) value is what dealers and lenders use to figure out how much a car is actually worth. And you can look it up for free on the same site they use: NADAguides. If the vehicle price you’re quoted is significantly higher than its NADA value, it might be best to keep searching or get ready to negotiate.

TIP: NADA isn’t the only pricing guide — you could also check Kelley Blue Book and Edmunds to see if their prices line up with NADAguides. Dealers may have access to industry-only guides like Hearst’s Black Book or the Manheim Market Report.

4. Get your own loan.

Get preapproved with a lender of your choice before you go to the dealership. Dealerships make the most money not from selling cars but from setting up their financing. Dealers can and often will raise a lender’s APR and take the difference as profit. The best way to know what APR you deserve is to apply for a loan directly. You could start with your own bank, credit union or online lender. We’ve also rounded up several of the top lenders for used and new cars.

5. Take the rebate, not the low APR financing.

If you’re offered the choice of a rebate or a low APR, take the rebate. You might sell the car before you can take full advantage of the savings from a low APR, whereas the rebate is money saved now.

TIP: It involves more legwork on your part, but you could “double dip” by financing with the manufacturer in order to get the rebate and then refinance later (but not too much later) with a different lender in order to get a lower APR.

6. Say no to add-ons (probably).

Dealerships also make money on add-ons such as GAP insurance and extended warranties. In most cases, it’s best to say no. But some could be worth the price if they are set at a fair price. Typical GAP insurance shouldn’t cost more than $400. Prices on extended warranties vary greatly — you stand to get the best price if you do some research beforehand.

7. Use your phone as you go.

Don’t be afraid to whip out your phone to look up competitor pricing on cars and add-ons, even in the dealership office. Some fees, including destination charges or taxes and title fees, are generally non-negotiable, but you might be able to negotiate add-ons.

8. Waiting forever? Go eat.

Long waits at the dealership might be because the staff is sincerely busy or it could be a tactic to wear you down. If you are waiting for an excessive amount of time, tell your salesperson you’re going to lunch or dinner or grabbing a coffee and will return later. That will either make the process move faster or give you a nice break.

TIP: No, it shouldn’t take an excessive amount of time to shop for and buy a car, but you’ll have to set aside some time. The average buyer spends about 14 hours from the moment they begin researching online or talking with friends and family, test-driving cars, to the day they sit down with the seller, the latter step eating up about 20% of the time.

9. Read the paperwork.

Even when you’ve followed all of these car-buying secrets to get the best deal on a car and car loan, don’t overlook the final details. It’s important to understand everything you’re signing even when (and especially when) you’ve spent hours at the dealership or are excited and want to drive away ASAP with your new wheels. If details have changed or you’re feeling pressured, it’s OK to walk away. In most cases, that car will still be there another day.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Jenn Jones
Jenn Jones |

Jenn Jones is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Jenn at [email protected]

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Auto Loan, Reviews

Review: Wells Fargo Auto Loan

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

Wells Fargo Auto Loan

If it’s time to get a new or used car, it’s time to do your research. Perhaps you’ve picked out the car of your dreams and you want to figure out the best way to pay for it.

When it comes to financing a vehicle, you have a ton of choices. Wells Fargo, founded in 1852, is one of many places to consider getting an auto loan from.

Wells Fargo Auto, a division of Wells Fargo Bank, serves more than 3 million auto loan customers throughout the United States.

About Wells Fargo

Wells Fargo offers new and used vehicle financing through its network of 11,000 active car dealerships, but it’s possible to apply with the bank directly if you’re interested in financing outside of the dealership or refinancing an existing auto loan. You could also use a Wells Fargo personal line of credit or loan to buy a car from a private seller or buy out your leased vehicle, but you may have to pay an annual fee or origination fee. A home equity loan or line of credit is another possibility but puts your home at risk should you default on your car payments.

It’s worth noting that Wells Fargo continues to compensate auto loan customers who were charged for insurance they didn’t need or add-ons after their car loans were repaid or their vehicles repossessed. The bank’s redress program came after a December 2018 settlement with attorneys general from all 50 states calling for $422 million to be repaid to auto loan customers.

Wells Fargo: At a glance

  • Loan terms up to 72months
  • Loan amounts between $5,000and $100,000for new and used auto loans.

Because a majority of Wells Fargo’s loans are through dealerships, what’s known as indirect lending, you may not know your exact rate or terms until you apply through a dealership. A Wells Fargo spokesperson said rates are based on a number of factors, including the borrower’s credit history. While the best rates and terms tend to go to those with the best credit, it’s possible to be approved with less-than-stellar scores at Wells Fargo.

Wells Fargo also offers loans for those looking for specialty vehicles like motorcycles or recreational vehicles. Existing customers may be eligible for a discount if they use autopay to make their vehicle payments from a Wells Fargo consumer checking account.

A closer look at Wells Fargo auto loans

Highlights of Wells Fargo auto loans

  • Multiple ways to pay: You could make your car payment through the bank’s online eServices function, automatic loan payments or at any Wells Fargo branch.
  • APR discount: Wells Fargo offers a 0.25% discount for existing customers who use a consumer checking account to make automatic payments on its car loans.

Lowlights of a Wells Fargo auto loan

  • Mix of direct and indirect loans: While it’s possible to apply directly through Wells Fargo for an auto loan, most of its auto lending is through dealerships.
  • Negative press: In addition to fines Wells Fargo has had to pay in regards to its auto loan customers, it has been fined for the way it treated mortgage customers as well. In all, the bank has agreed to pay billions in settlements and consent orders.

How to apply

As we’ve already mentioned, most customers apply through one of 11,000 dealerships in the Wells Fargo network. But applying outside of the dealership is possible — a Wells Fargo spokesperson said customers may call or visit a branch for more options. It’s possible to apply for a refinance loan online, in person or by calling 800-289-8004. We’ll talk more about refinance loans in more detail, below.

Here’s what the bank will want to know about you and your car:

  • Personal information: Address, contact information, date of birth and Social Security number.
  • Country of citizenship information
  • Marital status (Wisconsin only)
  • Housing information: Whether you rent or own and for how much as well as information about previous recent addresses
  • Income information: Your occupation, gross monthly income and previous employer
  • Information about your car: Year, VIN, mileage and remaining loan balance. You can find out your remaining loan balance by calling your current lender.

The fine print on an auto refinance loan

The only way to make sure you’re getting the best deal on a loan for a new car or to refinance the one you have is to shop around. Make sure a refinance really is in your best interest and that you understand Wells Fargo’s criteria before you sign:

  • Minimum loan amount of $7,500
  • Co-signers allowed
  • Not offered in Alaska, Arkansas, Hawaii, Louisiana, North Dakota or Washington, D.C.
  • May be difficult to get approved if your vehicle has more than 100,000 miles or is 8 years or older.

Once you have applied, Wells Fargo will contact you by phone, mail or email. You’ll have the option of signing and returning the loan package by mail or finishing the process online.

Who is a Wells Fargo auto loan best for?

Wells Fargo auto loans can be a good fit for those in the market for a new or used vehicle, or folks looking to refinance a current loan. It may be the best option for existing Wells Fargo customers looking to refinance — it’s possible to apply directly through the bank, online and, if you’re willing to make auto payments, you may score a lower interest rate.

A Wells Fargo auto loan might be good for anyone shopping for a new or used car as well, but the only way to make sure you’re getting the best rate, particularly if it’s one offered through the dealership, is by comparing it with your preapproval offer from another bank, credit union or online lender.

A Wells Fargo auto loan is not a good fit for anyone interested in a private party auto loan. For those, look to competitors such as Lightstream, Bank of America or a credit union.

Lindsay Martell contributed to this report.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

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