Millennials, we’re told, are commitment-phobes.
From smartphones to Netflix, Americans under 35 embrace monthly payments and want only up-to-date technology. We move and change careers more than any other generation, so we love flexibility.
So why might leasing cars be our perfect match? Because leasing delivers brand-new cars at affordable payments, and contracts typically last only three years.
“The idea of you’re going to keep [the car] for a few years, then you’re going to turn it in and upgrade it to something different is appealing to a lot of people,” says Jessica Caldwell, executive director of industry analysis at Edmunds, an online resource for automotive information.
While four out of five car-owning millennials still believe their vehicle is worth the hassle and expense, leasing is growing in popularity. Proportionally, millennials lease more than any other age group. According to Edmunds’ 2016 lease report, 34.2% of millennials lease rather than buy. And according to a Goldman Sachs survey, only 15% of millennials think it’s “extremely important” to own a car.
This is a generation in flux: Our car needs can change if we start a family, move to a different location or change careers.
“I don’t want to commit to [a type] of car right now,” says Will Colburn, a 22-year-old San Francisco Bay Area resident. “Like right now a two-door is fine for my life, but who knows down the road? Also, I like cars, so I want to drive a lot of different ones in my lifetime.”
There are many pros and cons to leasing, so you’ll want to ask yourself these questions before committing. Below, some of the reasons many millennials may choose leasing.
You’re covered under warranty
Most manufacturers offer free bumper-to-bumper warranties for the entirety of a lease. Several automakers, including Toyota and BMW, offer free maintenance programs for lessees.
“Most people want the hassle-free ownership experience,” Caldwell says. “They don’t want to necessarily take detailed ownership notes of when they get the car serviced and what’s wrong.”
Free car servicing at the dealership doesn’t just save time and effort. AAA’s 2016 driving cost brochure estimated maintenance costs at 4.81 cents per mile for the average driver. Drivers between 20 and 34 tend to accumulate higher mileage, an average of 15,000 annually. For them, free servicing would add up to an average annual savings of more than $700.
According to a 2014 study by RepairPal, which certifies auto repair shops, 49% of repair shop owners believe millennials are the generation least likely to care for their vehicles routinely. A free, manufacturer-backed warranty makes servicing easy.
Flexibility to change cars
While buying a used car is a better financial call in the long run, millennials may not be able to afford an upscale model at the beginning of their career. If they try too soon, they could get stuck with a beat-up ride for years.
If millennials lease, they’ll pay essentially to rent a car while they build their salaries and savings. Car brands like Honda and Toyota have high residual value at the end of the lease. That means automakers can lease even their expensive models for lower payments than if the customer had purchased the car, knowing they’ll still make money after the lease ends.
When the lease ends, millennials can buy a car with better resale value, up-to-date technology and curb appeal — or lease again. Or maybe by then we’ll Uber everywhere in self-driving cars. The point is, lessees have choices.
Doesn’t restrict cash flow
NerdWallet recommends putting down as close to 20% of the vehicle price as possible if you’re buying a car outright. Conversely, leasing doesn’t require much money upfront, and it’s known for zero-down deals. For a budgeting millennial, not paying a large lump of cash upfront can be a relief. You can use a lease calculator to see how the amount you pay upfront affects your monthly payment.
And while lessees don’t own a car at the end of their payments, lease payments are an average of 23% lower than monthly purchase payments — and the difference can be much higher. For example, a 2016 Chevrolet Malibu Limited may cost $293 in monthly payments to buy but $185 per month to lease, according to Chevrolet estimates. Since millennials are still adjusting to their monthly bills and expenses, not being tied up in large payments can go a long way.
Millennials are known for being tech lovers, and newer car features can be a ton of fun. Manufacturers such as Buick and GM have outfitted their cars with built in Wi-Fi hot spots, and certain Kia and Ford car seats can massage, heat and warm the driver.
More importantly, automakers have made incredible strides in new driver safety features. Keeping a car for a decade or more, while financially ideal, may leave your car noticeably behind in these upgrades.
What to watch out for
- Mileage caps: Lease contracts limit the miles you’re allowed to drive, typically between 12,000 and 15,000 a year. If you go over your limit, you’ll face an excess-mileage penalty of 10 to 15 cents per mile.
- Wear and tear: Dealerships allow average wear and tear, but your definition of average and theirs may not always line up. Parking lot dings or spilled soda in the back seat can add up quickly.
- Hard to break: Yes, leases are short, but if you do need to get out of them it can be difficult, and lease-breaking penalties usually are more expensive than finishing the payments. If your contract allows, you may be able to hand off your lease to another person — but you may still be on the hook if that person bails on payments.
- Credit: You’ll get the best lease deals with good credit, something that may affect millennials who haven’t had time to build strong scores.
Nicole Arata is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.