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Good Question: Should You Lease Or Buy A New Car?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Right now, Americans are hanging onto their cars for the longest time in history -- an average of 11 years. That's one reason experts think the coming months are going to be big months for people buying new cars. But does it make more sense to lease or buy a new car?

"If somebody is in the habit of wanting a new car every 2 to 4 years, you're foolish not to lease," said Doug Sprinthall, director of new vehicle operations for Walser Automotive.

If you don't keep cars for very long, leasing might be the right choice. Your monthly payment will be lower than if you buy, and you don't assume any of the risk when it's time to turn in your car.

Because interest rates are so low, and the used car market is so tight right now, Sprinthall said that now is one of the best times in recent history to lease a car, if you'd be inclined to lease.

There are so few used cars available so prices are high. Car manufacturers guess how much your leased car will be worth when you turn it in, and right now they're guessing the cars will have more "residual value." They use that number to set your lease payment.

A $24,000 Toyota Prius can be leased right now for 3 years, with 12,000 miles/year of driving, for $315 a month, with no money down.

"We're seeing lease payments as low as I've seen them in my 25 years in the car business," said Sprinthall.

If you buy the Prius, you'd pay $435 a month with no money down with a five-year loan at 2.9 percent interest.

"You want to look at total cost you're paying for -- the lease versus how long you would have that payment," said Nicole Middendorf, CEO of Prosperwell Financial in Plymouth.

She doesn't like leasing, because she doesn't think it generally makes financial sense. She said it's easy to be seduced by the low monthly payment.

"Look at the true cost of the car. You don't just want to look at the payment," said Middendorf.

So, back to that Prius: over three years of leasing, you'd pay $11,340. Then you have to lease another car, get another payment.

If you spent $120 more per month, you'd own it in five years.

"The ideal is that buy a used car that has low miles and own it for as long as you possibly can," she said.

According to Sprinthall, don't consider leasing a cheaper car. Mid-priced to luxury cars might make the most sense to lease. There are no worries about ongoing maintenance, and if the value of the car goes in the tank, the leaser is not on the hook.

"Let's say you leased a Land Cruiser, at end of the lease Toyota thought it'd be worth $40,000 but gas goes to $6 a gallon and it's worth $20,000. Toyota eats it," he said.

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