How to get out of your SUV lease

Internet sites offer a chance to break free from a restrictive lease or potentially find a good deal, but watch the additional fees.

By Steve Hargreaves, CNNMoney.com staff writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- So you've got two years left on the lease for your Lincoln Navigator, but filling the tank is beginning to take its toll.

Breaking the lease is not really an option. Fees can run to thousands of dollars. So more and more people are turning to the Web to find people who can take over the leases.

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There are two major sites, LeaseTrader.com and swapalease.com.

Both have seen big growth. Starting from zero about eight years ago, swapalease now brokers about 7,000 deals a year, according to Scot Hall, a company executive.

LeaseTrader is a bit older and larger, on track to handle about 35,000 transactions this year, according to LeaseTrader President Sergio Stiberman.

Stiberman said he has seen a 30 percent increase in people looking to sell their SUV leases this year.

"They definitely mention gas prices as a reason for getting out," said LeaseTrader spokesman John Sternal.

The fees are similar at both sites.

LeaseTrader charges $79 to sellers to post an ad; buyers pay $40 for a 60-day membership. The site runs credit checks so sellers know buyers can afford to assume their lease payments. If a transaction takes place, each party has to pay a $149 fee to the site.

Swapalease has a listing fee ranging from $49 to $149, depending on the amount of exposure the seller wants the ad to have. Membership fees for buyers run about $40. A transaction fee is only charged if a seller has the cheapest listing fee, in which case it's $95.

There are other costs too, noted Alex Rosten, an industry analyst at the auto research site Edmunds.com.

The leasing company usually charges a $200 to $400 fee to switch the names. And if the car isn't purchased when the lease runs out, there's often another $200 to $600 charge. If the car isn't local and needs to be shipped, that could run another $500.

"It's not as simple as signing on the dotted line," said Rosten. "Always research the fees before you pull the trigger."

For people looking to sell a lease, they'll have the best chance if the vehicle is still far from the mileage limit in the lease contract and the original lease terms are financially attractive.

Many of the ads feature cars that have used up all their allotted miles or where the original lease was expensive.

In those cases, the seller will usually try to sweeten the deal by offering a cash incentive, often thousands of dollars, to the prospective lease buyer.

Getting a good deal on these sites is possible, but it depends entirely on the details of the lease and the incentives being offered.

Sites like these can be good places to shop for a short term lease, say a year or less, said Rosten, for the simple reason that it's hard to find new car leases that short.

You can also benefit from someone's mistake, said Rosten. Some people still make big down payments on leased vehicles - something experts advise against - which can reduce the monthly cost substantially.

"If that happens, you can end up with a real bargain," he said.

But he offered one more word of caution: some of the ads on those sites are put there by dealers or leasing companies, not legitimate third parties.

"You're going there to take over a lease, not start a new one," he said. Top of page

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Most stock quote data provided by BATS. Market indices are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer.

Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Factset: FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved.

Chicago Mercantile Association: Certain market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved.

Dow Jones: The Dow Jones branded indices are proprietary to and are calculated, distributed and marketed by DJI Opco, a subsidiary of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and have been licensed for use to S&P Opco, LLC and CNN. Standard & Poor's and S&P are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor’s Financial Services LLC and Dow Jones is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC. All content of the Dow Jones branded indices © S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC 2014 and/or its affiliates.