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Turning In A Lease Early: Understanding Your Options

Hanna Kielar6-minute read
March 22, 2022

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There are plenty of good reasons to get out of a car lease early. Maybe you’ve moved somewhere with affordable public transit, need more space, or the expensive monthly payments are no longer worth the value your leased vehicle adds to your life.

That said, general dissatisfaction with your car, a growing intrigue for a more expensive model, or wanting to buy out the car early with no intent to sell could make getting rid of your lease before the contract is up a bad financial decision. It’s also possible that you have good reason to get out of the lease, but the cost of terminating your lease early outweighs the cost of simply paying out the rest of the lease term.

Whatever your situation, we’ll go over the pros and cons of each of your options and detail how to get out of a car lease legally.

Your Options At A Glance

Option 1: Terminate Your Car Lease: The earlier into the lease that you choose to simply terminate your contract, the more it will cost you. Call your leasing company to see how much early termination will cost you.

Option 2: Transfer Your Lease To A New Lessee: Lease transfer websites allow you to list your lease contract for other qualified buyers to take over. If your leasing company allows a transfer, barring credit approval, this is a great option for folks who want to get out of their lease without paying to break it.

Option 3: Sell Your Leased Car: Given that used cars have skyrocketed in price, you may still be able to turn a profit by paying that early buyout fee and selling your leased car to a dealership or private party.

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Option 1: Terminate Your Car Lease

The easiest, and most expensive, option to get rid of a leased car is to end the car lease early. For example, if you’re two years into a three-year car lease and choose to return the vehicle early, you would be embarking on an early termination.

Most leasing companies have penalties for breaking a car lease. The federal Consumer Leasing Act requires the leasing company to disclose the conditions that would allow an early lease termination and the amount or method for determining the termination and disposition fees in your leasing agreement.

How much you’ll pay is often based on the difference between your remaining lease payoff amount and the estimated resale value of the vehicle at the end of the lease term. For example, if you drive off the lot with a lease payoff amount of $20,000 and the estimated value of the leased vehicle at the end of a three year term is $12,000, you’ll have to pay $8,000 to get out of the lease. 

The earlier you are in your lease agreement, the more expensive it will be to end the lease early. That’s because the rate of depreciation is at its highest in the first year of a car’s life cycle. In fact, new cars lose up to 10% of its value within the first minute it’s driven off the lot.

 

Pros

Cons

Convenience. This is by far the most time-efficient and convenient method to get out of a car lease early. You go through all the steps you’d expect from a normal end-of-lease process, plus a fee.

Expensive. Terminating your lease early is also, by far, the most expensive way to get out of a lease before it ends.

Clear cost estimation. You’ll know how much this option will cost you from the moment you sign your lease contract. If you’re not sure where to find the early termination fee information, call your leasing company.

No equity gained. You’ll never have ownership rights over the vehicle or profit off the money you’ve already invested.

 

Our Advice: Every contract is different, so you’ll need to comb through your lease contract to find out if you need to pay a car lease early termination fee. Once you know how much an early termination will cost, you can decide if it’s worth it.

Option 2: Transfer Your Lease To A New Lessee

Lease transfers allow you to legally transfer your current lease, and its remaining payments, to a new lessee who has a qualifying credit score.

There are lease takeover websites that allow you to post your leased vehicle along with the contract terms to help find an interested buyer. Your leasing company will run a credit check to approve the replacement lessee, charge you a transfer fee, and release you from your monthly payment obligation.

Some leasing companies will still hold the original lessee (that’s you) at fault if the new lessee defaults on payments. If you choose to go this route, finding a responsible family member or friend to take over lease payments can be safer than a stranger you find on a lease trader website.

You’re still likely to pay a transfer fee, but it should be considerably less than early termination costs. Lease transfers are not legal in every state or even offered by every leasing company, so double check that this option is available to you.

 

Pros

Cons

Relatively cheaper than an early lease termination.

Transfer fees. You still will have to pay out of pocket to end the lease in your name.

Convenience. Like an early lease termination, the process is fairly simple and much of the paperwork falls on the leasing company to handle.

You could remain liable. If the new lessee defaults, you could be on the hook to continue making payments.

Our Advice: Make sure you ask your leasing company the right questions:

  • What will the total cost of a lease transfer be?
  • Will it include taxes?
  • What will you remain liable for?
  • How does their new lessee approval process work?

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Option 3: Sell Your Leased Car

You could simply sell your leased car to a private party or to a dealership for cash or trade-in value. You’ll still have to pay the termination fee, but you have potential to still make a profit when you sell your car.

The pandemic has caused used car values to skyrocket, which could mean that your leased vehicle is worth more than you think—perhaps even more than the cost of terminating your lease early.

A private party sale will be the most lucrative and the most labor-intensive option as you’ll have to find a buyer and deal with all the paperwork of a sale. Be sure to check with your DMV to find out what your sales tax obligations are if you sell to a third party. Some states will offer an exception if the purchase and sale happen within a certain time frame.

Selling to a dealership won’t turn as much profit, but you benefit from the convenience of the dealership taking care of the paperwork. They’ll pay off the leasing company directly, deal with any sales tax, and use any equity as a down payment on a trade-in car, if you go that route.

Pros

Cons

Convenience. Trading in your car to a dealership is the simplest way to get out of your leased car and into a new one.

You may need permission from your leasing company, which could eliminate this option.

Potential profit. These days, you could stand to make a profit off selling your leased vehicle, even after paying a lease buyout fee.

Credit pull. If your credit score has dropped since signing your current lease agreement, a new agreement could have worse terms.

Our Advice: Ask your leasing company if your contract has any third-party buyout restrictions that would require their permission to sell. If your ultimate goal is to get out of an expensive car lease and into a more affordable vehicle, this option could make sense for you. Get an instant cash offer for a haggle-free, secure and fast payment option.

The Bottom Line: Crunch The Numbers

Just because you signed a leasing contract doesn’t mean you don’t have options. In fact, the leasing company is legally obligated to spell out all your early termination options in the leasing agreement.

You need to have all the information unique to your situation to make a decision. Call your leasing company and ask about third-party buyout restrictions, the total payoff amount, and lease transfer options. And while you’re at it, find out how much your car is worth to get a sense for any profit gains or losses you may face with an early lease termination.

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Hanna Kielar

Hanna Kielar is a Section Editor for Rocket Auto℠, RocketHQ℠, and Rocket Loans® with a focus on personal finance, automotive, and personal loans. She has a B.A. in Professional Writing from Michigan State University.