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Auto Financing
Buying or Leasing a Vehicle

With prices averaging more than $28,000 for a new vehicle and $15,000 for a used vehicle, most consumers need financing or leasing to acquire a vehicle. In some cases, buyers use “direct lending.” They obtain a loan directly from a finance company, bank or credit union. In direct lending, a buyer agrees to pay the amount financed, plus an agreed-upon finance charge, over a period of time. Once a buyer and a vehicle dealership enter into a contract to purchase a vehicle, the buyer uses the loan proceeds from the direct lender to pay the dealership for the vehicle. Consumers also may arrange for a vehicle loan over the Internet.

A common type of vehicle financing is “dealership financing.” In this arrangement, a buyer and a dealership enter into a contract where the buyer agrees to pay the amount financed, plus an agreed-upon finance charge, over a period of time. The dealership may retain the contract, but usually sells it to an assignee (such as a bank, finance company or credit union), which services the account and collects the payments.

For the vehicle buyer, dealership financing offers:

  1. Convenience: Dealers offer buyers both vehicles and financing in one place.

  2. Multiple financing relationships: Dealership’s relationships with a variety of banks and finance companies mean it can usually offer buyers a range of financing options.

  3. Special programs: From time to time, dealerships may offer manufacturersponsored, low-rate programs to buyers.

Determining How Much You Can Afford

Before financing or leasing a vehicle, make sure you have enough income to cover your current monthly living expenses. Then, finance new purchases only when you can afford to take on a new monthly payment. The only time to consider taking on additional debt is when you’re spending less each month than you take home. The additional debt load should not cut into the amount you’ve committed to saving for emergencies and other top priorities or life goals. Saving money for a down payment or trading in a vehicle can reduce the amount you need to finance. In some cases, your trade-in vehicle will take care of the down payment on your vehicle.

Should I Lease a Vehicle?

If you are considering leasing, there are several things to keep in mind. The monthly payments on a lease are usually lower than monthly finance payments on the same vehicle because you are paying for the vehicle’s expected depreciation during the lease term, plus a rent charge, taxes, and fees. But at the end of a lease, you must return the vehicle unless the lease lets you buy it and you agree to the purchase costs and terms. To be sure the lease terms fit your situation: Consider the beginning, middle and end of lease costs. Compare different lease offers and terms, including mileage limits, and also consider how long you may want to keep the vehicle.

When you lease a vehicle, you have the right to use it for an agreed number of months and miles. At lease end, you may return the vehicle, pay any end-of-lease fees and charges, and “walk away.” You may buy the vehicle for the additional agreed-upon price if you have a purchase option, which is a typical provision in retail lease contracts. Keep in mind that in most cases, you will be responsible for an early termination charge if you end the lease early. That charge could be substantial.

Another important consideration is the mileage limit—most standard leases are calculated based on a specified number of miles you can drive, typically 15,000 or fewer per year. You can negotiate a higher mileage limit, but you will normally have an increased monthly payment since the vehicle’s depreciation will be greater during your lease term. If you exceed the mileage limit set in the lease agreement, you’ll probably have to pay additional charges when you return the vehicle.

When you lease, you are also responsible for excess wear and damage, and missing equipment. You must also service the vehicle in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations.

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