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Understand how auto leasing works before signing an agreement

| Thursday, May 2, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Louis Ehrlich of Boynton Beach, Fla., had never leased a car before. He had always purchased his vehicles outright.

But because he's 94, he thought leasing might be a good option. So earlier this year he ventured to a Broward County, Fla., car dealer where he traded in his 1993 Lexus as part of the deal.

After the negotiations and signing a two-year lease he describes being “as long as a newspaper page” with a lot of fine print, Ehrlich said he wasn't given as much for his trade-in as he was told.

“The salesman was so nice. He acted like he was my best friend,” Ehrlich said.

When all was said and done, he said he's sorry he leased because the process was confusing.

The Palm Beach Post recently has received a number of calls from people in their 90s and from their relatives about their car-leasing experiences.

A Texas man called saying he was upset to learn his 95-year-old mother, who lives in Palm Beach County, signed a four-year lease. He's not sure she should be driving and felt that she had been taken advantage of.

A Florida resident in his 90s asked how he could get out of the lease he signed after being “worn down” during a five-hour ordeal at the car dealer.

Al Payne, regional director of Seniors vs. Crime, a project of the Florida Attorney General's Office, said he has received numerous phone calls from seniors who leased vehicles and then regretted it. Payne said that often the callers have signed a contract without reading it.

“Read your contract before you put your signature on it,” Payne said.

Most people assume leasing a car is similar to renting, but leasing is simply another method of financing a vehicle, said Gregg Fidan of RealCarTips.com.

“Most dealers will give you a fair deal if you are informed. If they sense you have not done your research and can take advantage of you, they will. There are so many numbers and things like residual values and capitalized costs,” Fidan said.

Fidan recommends going through the nonprofit Checkbook.org and using its LeaseWise service. The fee is $350, and the company obtains bids from dealerships in your area and negotiates the best lease on your behalf. Checkbook.org can be reached at 800-475-7283.

Susan Salisbury is a writer for The Palm Beach (Fla.) Post.

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