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Buy or Lease a Car? How to Decide

Today we tackle the age old question that has plagued mankind since the dawn of time… Should you buy or lease that car? A question more perplexing than paper vs. plastic, or even soup vs. salad. The choice as to whether you should buy or lease a car comes down to two main factors:  1) Your financial situation, and 2) Your lifestyle choices. Our credit counseling advice is to consider which choice makes more financial sense for you.

Consider your financial life when deciding to buy or lease a car.

Consider your financial life when deciding to buy or lease a car.








First, let’s cover the basic differences between buying and leasing a car.

Buying (Financing):

  • Down payment typically required
  • Monthly payments are higher than lease payments
  • Monthly payments go towards your purchase of the vehicle, and you will own it at the end of the finance period
  • Typical financing period is 48-72 months
  • No mileage limits
  • You can make custom alterations to the vehicle


  • Typically no down payment
  • Monthly payments lower than finance payments
  • Monthly payments are put toward the depreciation of the vehicle, not the purchase, and you return the car at the end of the lease period
  • Typical lease period is 24-48 months
  • Mileage limits typically allow between 12,000 and 15,000 miles per year, penalty fees apply if you go over
  • You cannot do custom work to your car, and any damage not covered by the warranty will have to be repaired by you when you return the car
  • Termination fee will apply if you choose to cancel your lease before the end of the agreed-upon period
  • Once the lease is up you will need another car, requiring you to start a new lease, buy the car, or walk

So how do you decide what you should do? Just address those 2 factors… Your finances and your lifestyle choices. This will help you figure out which works best for your budget.

Your Finances:

  • Are you low on cash? If so, leasing may be the better option as it will typically require  no down payment.  Also, the monthly payments will be lower than financing.
  • How much do you earn? Overall, financing will cost you more than leasing.  Be sure that your payments will fit your budget. To go along with that…
  • How much can you spend? Figure out what you can afford by calculating all of your other monthly expenses and subtracting them from your income. What’s left over is available to spend, but don’t go spending it all on the car.  You still want to have some savings each month.
  • How’s your credit? Your credit score will affect the rates you can get for a car loan or financing. Know your score going in. Request your free credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com, and go to MyFICO.com to get your score. Check these a few months before you plan on making a purchase so you can have some time to investigate and correct any errors in your report that may hurt your score.

Your Lifestyle

  • What kind of car do you want? Do you want a daily commuter that just gets you from point A to point B? Or do you want a luxurious status symbol? What about a big SUV or a fast sports car? This is also a financial question, as the answer will dictate what you’ll need to spend.
  • How well do you take care of your car? If you take great care of your car, then you can finance and recoup some of the cost if you decide to sell/trade in your car later.  If you’re hard on your cars, then the resale value will be lower and leasing may be the better option.  Just be aware that you will have to pay for certain kinds of damage before your lease is up.
  • Do you like to drive new cars? If so, then you’ll want to lease. This way, you drive one car for a few years until the lease is up, then go right back to the dealer and sign a new lease for a new car. However, don’t lease if you want a new car every year or every 7-8 years.  You’re better off buying in those cases.
  • Is your life stable? If there’s a chance you will move, start a family, lose your job, get a divorce, or make any other big change in the next few years, then a lease might be risky.  If a life change causes you to opt out early, there will be penalties.  You saved on the down payment and the monthly payments, but that will be wiped out by these fees.

Look at your financial situation, ask yourself some questions about your driving and lifestyle choices, and you should be able to decide whether buying or leasing is the right move for you.

If you’re struggling to pay off debt, ACCC can help. Schedule a free credit counseling session with us today.


Andi is a Marketing Assistant at ACCC. He is passionate about supporting financial literacy efforts and helping to educate people on the Talking Cents blog!

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