Photo credit: Max kegfire/


Should You Make a Down Payment On A Car Lease?

Written By: Jerry Reynolds | Apr 20, 2023 10:33:30 AM

I can tell from questions I get on the CarPro Radio Show that people understand the general concept of leases, but some of the more intricate details are still a bit foggy for many.

Car Leasing and Down Payments

If you do a conventional purchase of an automobile, I recommend putting as much of a down payment or trade equity as you can.  This lowers the monthly payment and cuts down on interest charges.  However, the scenario is very different with a lease.

Important fact:  While cash or trade equity on a lease does lower the monthly payment, it does nothing to help at the end of the lease.  Let’s look at this hypothetical example of two ways to lease the same vehicle: a $50,000 MSRP with a $45,000 price after any incentives and discounts, 36 months, 12,000 miles per year, residual value of 55%, (which is $27,500) and a money factor of .00012 (equivalent of 2.9% APR):

  • #1. This customer doesn’t put a penny down, no tax, title, and license, nothing.  The payment calculation shows that he or she will have a monthly lease payment of $719.

  • #2This customer has the same terms, same vehicle, but decides to put $5,000 down to lower the payment down to $574, a monthly savings of $145 per month.

36 months later, the end of the lease comes, and both customers have a residual value of $27,500 that has to be dealt with.  They are both in the same position.  The $5,000 paid by customer #2 is gone completely.  He or she paid $5,220 less in monthly payments than customer #1 did, but the $5,000 vanished. 

Know that it is OK to put money down on a lease as long as you understand that all you are doing is artificially buying down your monthly payment, not building equity.  Too often people think down payment on a lease helps build equity at lease-end and nothing could be further from the truth.

My recommendation is to put down the tax, title, and license only.  This is optional and a personal decision.  No down payment can be arranged on every lease, especially for those people who have good credit.  Personally, I prefer not to pay interest on a tax, therefore, I put the tax, title, and license down.

If you have a trade-in that has a clear title or that has equity, think of that as cash since that is what it is.  If you have a clear title to your trade-in, take out the amount you want to put down and have the dealership write you a check for the rest.  If you have equity but also a balance owed on your trade-in, the dealership will write a check to your lender for the amount owed and another check to you for your equity.

As a side note, if you are curious about the money factor I spoke of earlier, this is a term for interest rate on your lease.  If you are looking at a lease worksheet and want to convert the money factor to an APR percentage, simply multiply the money factor by 2400.

Making a down payment on a lease is a personal decision.  You may be more comfortable putting money down to get to a comfortable monthly payment, or you may prefer to keep your cash and write a bigger check each month.  There is no wrong or right answer.  Just understand the residual value at the end of the lease is going to be the same.

To understand more about leasing, we have a leasing section that will help you at our FAQ page.

Photo Credit: Max kegfire/

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