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How to Get the Best Deal for a Car Lease

A five-step plan to winning car lease negotiations.

By the time you set foot in the dealership, it’s easy to feel like you’ve lost the battle. Even if you have already read the fine print of this month’s advertised lease deals, scoured TrueCar or a similar pricing guide, and found the sweet spot between the invoice price and MSRP, if you’re not ready to for lease negotiations, all your other prep can be for naught. The good news: Negotiating a lease is no more complicated than buying a car. Here’s your five-step plan to get the best deal for your lease.

1. Walk in prepared to negotiate.

There are a number of factors involved that determine a monthly lease payment that aren’t immediately visible in the bottom line payment. “You always want to start with negotiating a selling price for the vehicle you want to lease — just like you would if you were buying a car,” says Los Angeles-based leasing expert Ricky Phung.

Leasing experts offer numerous rules of thumb, including keeping the taxed monthly payment at or around 1 percent of MSRP.

“A lot of people that want to lease a car will have a monthly payment in mind and that’s it,” Phung said. “This can lead to disappointment because either the dealer can’t or won’t lease it for that price, or they could’ve actually leased it for much less had they done their proper homework.

2. Keep your down payment as low as possible.

Your salesperson will almost definitely ask you how much money you want to put down on the lease. Unlike a financing deal, where you will ultimately own the car, a lease is more like a rental. Put down as little as possible, or no money at all.

“Down payment should always be $0, or as close to $0 as possible in order to have an apples-to-apples comparison,” Phung said. “God forbid you get in an accident and your car is totaled, any money left as a down payment is lost and you won’t get it back.”

3. Seek the upfront discount.

The price you see on the Monroney sticker isn’t necessarily the price you’ll pay. Two identical vehicles, down to the make, model, and trim, could have vastly different transaction prices — despite having the same MSRP. Use the aforementioned pricing tools to learn as much as you can before you enter the showroom.

“Any discount on the MSRP automatically means a lower monthly payment, even before rebates and incentives are factored in,” Phung said. “This is where doing research to see how much people paid for the car you’re interested in comes in handy. Depreciation is set by the bank, so unfortunately you can’t negotiate there.”

4. Shop around.

Heed the advice of Smokey Robinson and keep your options open. If you just can’t get a dealer to match the rate you want or need, consider similar models in the category that are moving less quickly off the lots.

“Find a car that offers rebates or is heavily incentivized,” Phung advised. “Almost like a down payment, an additional $1,000 in rebates/incentives can effectively lower your monthly payments by about $28 per month on a 36-month lease.”

Phung pointed to the example of the Volvo S90 sedan and V90 Cross Country wagon. They’re nearly identical on paper in every way, including MSRP, with a key difference: the advertised lease payment. According to Phung, the slow-selling S90 was recently incentivized to the tune of $300 per month with almost no money down—an amazing deal for a luxury sedan with an MSRP of nearly $50,000.

5. Stand your ground.

Is it hard to look a salesperson in the eye and ask for concessions like $0 down? Absolutely. The best way to win a car lease is to not feel intimidated by the process. Everything else is numbers.