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The Ultimate Car Leasing vs Buying Calculator

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Jan 17th, 2024
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The decision to own a car often feels straightforward, but the financial implications are anything but. Many of us cherish the convenience of personal vehicles, but overlook the substantial costs involved. This dilemma brings us to a critical question: Is it better to lease or buy a car? We've delved deep into this topic, challenging common perceptions and uncovering the realities behind car ownership costs.

The allure of leasing a car has grown tremendously over the years, and it's not hard to see why.

In an era where flexibility and convenience are highly prized, leasing offers a tempting alternative to traditional car ownership. It began as a niche option for luxury vehicles and corporate fleets but has since gained mainstream appeal.

The idea of driving a newer model car every few years, without the long-term commitment or hefty upfront costs of buying, struck a chord with many. This trend was further fueled by attractive lease deals and the promise of hassle-free maintenance, making it a go-to choice for those who prioritize convenience and the latest car features over long-term financial investment; but is it really better? (we made a video about it).

Why is a calculator needed? 

Every individual's situation is unique, with a multitude of variables impacting the decision.

Choosing between leasing and buying isn't just a matter of monthly payments. It involves considering factors like the length of time you plan to keep the car, the amount of driving you do, and the type of vehicle you're eyeing. Additionally, financial considerations such as down payments, interest rates, maintenance costs, insurance, and even potential tax deductions play a crucial role.

With so many moving parts, trying to crunch these numbers in your head or on a simple spreadsheet can be daunting, if not impossible, for most of us, because of how many variables can affect the outcome. For example,

  1. Purchase Price/Lease Amount: The upfront cost for buying or the total lease amount for leasing.
  2. Down Payment: The initial payment made when buying a car.
  3. Loan Interest Rate (if applicable): The interest rate for the car loan when purchasing.
  4. Lease Terms: Including the length of the lease and any associated fees.
  5. Monthly Payments: For both leasing and loan repayments.
  6. Depreciation Rate: How quickly the car loses value over time.
  7. Maintenance Costs: Regular upkeep costs for both leased and owned vehicles.
  8. Insurance Costs: Insurance expenses for the car.
  9. Annual Mileage: The number of miles driven per year, which can affect lease terms and vehicle depreciation.
  10. Tax Deductions/Benefits: Any applicable tax benefits, especially relevant for business leasing or electric vehicle purchases.
  11. Fuel/Electricity Costs: Ongoing costs for powering the vehicle.
  12. Resale Value (for purchased vehicles): The expected value of the car at the end of the ownership period.
  13. End of Lease Charges: Any additional fees at the end of a lease, such as for excess wear and tear or additional mileage.

Often times, napkin math tends to leave some of these out, and the margins between owning and leasing are so slim that you might be coming to the wrong conclusions.

So here's a breakdown of the sections behind the calculator. '

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Car Details

In the 'Car Details' section of our calculator, we consider the essential specifics of the vehicle you're contemplating. This goes beyond the sticker price to encompass a range of financial factors that determine the true cost of a car over time. Here's a breakdown of these crucial variables:

  1. Base Car Price (input): This is the starting point, the manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP) for a new vehicle or the sale price for a used one. It's the raw figure before any fees or taxes kick in.
  2. Vehicle Type (input): Whether you're eyeing a gas-powered sedan, an electric vehicle, or a hybrid can significantly sway the cost structure. Each type has its own set of tax incentives, fuel efficiency, and maintenance profiles, which are pivotal in cost calculations.
  3. Car Sales Tax (input): This percentage varies widely depending on your location and can significantly increase the out-the-door price of the vehicle.
  4. After Taxes: It's the price of the car after the sales tax has been added. This is the actual amount you'll be financing or paying upfront.
  5. After Taxes + Fees: This includes all the additional costs, such as documentation fees, registration, and any other mandatory charges that complete the total expense of acquiring the car.
  6. Car Age (input): For a new car, this would be zero, but if you're buying used, the age of the car can affect its depreciation rate and maintenance costs.
  7. Car Mileage (input): For a new car, this would be zero. Initial mileage is particularly relevant for used vehicles, as it influences the car's remaining lifespan and potential resale value.

Ongoing Costs

In the "Ongoing Costs" section of the calculator, we account for the expenses that continue to accrue after you've obtained the car. Here's a straightforward explanation of the various factors:

  1. Annual Fees: These are the recurring costs associated with vehicle ownership, such as registration renewal and any other mandatory yearly fees.
  2. Insurance: This is the yearly insurance premium, which can vary based on the car model, your driving history, location, and other factors.
  3. Tire Lifespan and Cost: Tires are a significant and often overlooked expense. This variable considers how many miles a set of tires will last before needing replacement, and the cost for a new set.
  4. Down Time: When your car is in for repairs or maintenance, you might need alternative transportation. This cost is the daily expense you'd incur during such periods.

For maintenance frequency, we look at:

  1. Miles-based and Time-based Service: Regular maintenance can be scheduled by either mileage or time intervals. This reflects the frequency of service visits.
  2. Cost per Visit: This is the average cost for each maintenance appointment, which can be affected by the car model and the type of service required.
  3. Estimated Annual Maintenance Cost: Based on the frequency and cost per visit, this gives an annual figure for maintenance expenses.

And for the fuel costs of Gas Vehicles vs. Electric Vehicles (EVs):

  1. Miles per Gallon / Miles per kWh: This is a measure of fuel efficiency, indicating how far the car can travel on a gallon of gas or a kWh of electricity.
  2. Gas / Electricity Price: These are the current costs for fuel and electricity, which, combined with the efficiency figures, help calculate the ongoing energy costs of operating the vehicle.

Car Purchase and Sale Conditions

In the "Car Purchase and Sale Conditions" section, we examine the financial parameters of buying a car and what to expect when selling it down the line:

Loan/Financing:

  • Down Payment (input): The percentage of the car's price that you pay upfront.
  • Purchase Fees (input): Additional costs at the time of purchase, such as title and registration fees.
  • Loan Period (input): The time frame over which you'll repay the car loan.
  • Interest Rate (input): The annual rate applied to your car loan.
  • Extra Amortization (input): Any extra payment you opt to make each month towards the loan principal.
  • Financing Amount: The amount of money you're borrowing after the down payment.
  • Upfront Payment: The sum of your down payment and purchase fees.
  • Monthly Payment: Your expected monthly payment for the loan, initially and after the first 12 months.

Car Sale (After 3 years):

  • Car Age at Sale (input): The number of years you've owned the car at the time of sale.
  • Age-based Value: The estimated value of the car based on its age.
  • Car Mileage (input): The odometer reading at the time of sale.
  • Miles-based Value: The estimated value of the car given its accumulated mileage.
  • Effective Sale Price: The anticipated price you could sell the car for, considering its age and mileage.
  • Sale Taxes (input): Taxes to be paid upon selling the car.
  • Sale Costs (input): Costs incurred from selling the car, including registration and any service fees.

Lease Conditions

Pricing:

  • Down Payment (input): The initial amount paid at the start of the lease to lower the monthly payments.
  • Lease Fees (input): Additional costs required to initiate the lease.
  • Lease Period (input): The duration, in months, for which the lease agreement is valid.
  • Monthly Lease (input): The set payment amount due each month for the lease of the vehicle.
  • Lease Sales Tax (input): The percentage of sales tax applied to the monthly lease payment.
  • Upfront Payment: The total due at lease signing, including the first month's payment and any fees or taxes.
  • Monthly Plan: The monthly lease payment including sales tax.

Overcharges:

  • Miles Allowance (input): The maximum number of miles allowed per year without incurring extra charges.
  • Price/Extra Mile (input): The cost per mile if the annual mileage limit is exceeded.
  • Disposition Fee (input): A fee charged at the end of the lease if the vehicle is not purchased.

Additional Considerations Not Included in the Lease:

  • Maintenance, Tires, Insurance, Replacement Car, Annual Fees: These are expenses that are typically the responsibility of the lessee and are not included in the lease payment.

Costs Due to Excess Usage:

  • Excess Miles: The number of miles driven over the annual allowance.
  • Excess Miles Cost: The additional cost incurred for exceeding the mileage allowance.
  • Total Annual Cost: The sum of all costs associated with the lease for the year.
  • Avg Monthly Cost: The average cost per month when all annual expenses are considered.

These inputs are essential for accurately estimating the total cost of leasing a vehicle. They help compare the financial implications of leasing versus buying, taking into account all potential fees and overage charges that can accumulate over the term of the lease.

Tax Write-Offs

Write-Offs:

  • Miles Driven for Business Purposes (input): The percentage of the vehicle's use that is for business, which can affect the deductible amount.
  • Tax Treatment (input): Specifies whether the individual is filing as an individual or a business, which influences tax deductions.
  • Write-Off Treatment (input): The method used to calculate tax deductions for vehicle use, either the Standard Mile Rate or the Actual Expense method.
  • Standard Mile Rate Deductions (input): The IRS standard mileage rate, used to calculate deductions if the Standard Mile Rate method is chosen.

Individuals:

  • Taxable Income (input): The individual's annual income, which is used to determine tax liability and the value of deductions.
  • Deductions Unrelated to Car (input): Other deductions that the individual can claim, which affect overall taxable income.
  • Filing as (input): The tax-filing status, such as single, married filing jointly, etc., which can impact tax rates and deductions.

Advanced users can use Tax Brackets and Tax Estimations sheets to provide more details about their specific state tax rules.

EV Purchase Incentives:

  • New Cars (input): The tax credit available for purchasing new electric vehicles (EVs).
  • Used Cars (input): The tax credit available for purchasing used electric vehicles.
  • Effective EV Credit: The actual credit amount that will be applied, based on the vehicle's eligibility.

EV Lease Incentives:

  • EV Tax Credit (input): The tax credit applicable for leasing electric vehicles.

Businesses:

  • Expected Business Net Profits (input): The annual profit of the business, used to calculate potential tax savings from deductions.
  • Tax Rate (input): The tax rate applied to the business's profits, which affects the total tax liability and the savings from any deductions.

Reinvesting Unused Capital

The "Reinvesting Unused Capital" section of the calculator considers the potential financial benefits of reinvesting capital that would otherwise be tied up in a vehicle purchase. Here are the inputs for this module:

  • Capital Reinvested (input): This is the percentage of the saved or unspent money (from not making a down payment or incurring upfront fees) that you plan to reinvest.
  • Capital ROI (Annual) (input): The expected annual return on investment (ROI) for the reinvested capital.

This module helps you estimate the financial outcome of putting the money you would have spent on down payments, upfront fees, and extra amortization into other investments. By calculating the potential returns on this unused capital, you can better understand the opportunity costs associated with the immediate outlay of funds when purchasing a car, compared to the lower initial costs of leasing.

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