Leasing a vehicle is typically a rent-to-own setup, where you make monthly payments with the option to purchase the car and the end of the contract term. You normally don't get a copy of the title, as that goes to the leasing company. Rarely, you may receive a title copy to register the vehicle with your state's department of motor vehicles. If you purchase the vehicle outright after the lease contract, you receive the official title at that point.
Initial Lease Agreement
Lease contract terms and lengths vary, but arrangements that last from 36 to 39 months are fairly standard. Primary benefits of leasing are that you don't have to take on a loan and you can flexibly change cars every few years.
When you sign your lease contract, the leasing company or dealership remains the titled owner of the car. This scenario is similar to other rental agreements where you pay money for the right to use someone else's property temporarily.
Purchasing the Vehicle
It is fairly common for someone to like the vehicle she leases and buy it at the end of the contract period. Not all leasing companies allow purchase opportunities on leased vehicles, so check with a business before signing a contract if you are interested in an eventual purchase.
After you make the purchase and complete the paperwork, your leasing company usually files the title and registration materials with your state's department of motor vehicles. There are two common scenarios regarding what the agency does with the title:
- Outright Purchase -- If you paid the residual value or purchase price with cash, you own the car outright. Therefore, you would receive the title certificate. It may take a few weeks for it to arrive in the mail after filing.
- Financed Purchase -- If you take out a loan to buy the leased car, your lender is named as a lien holder on the title. The title is sent to the lender and held in its possession. After you complete the payoff, the lender files documents for a lien removal and sends you the title. It normally takes a few weeks after payoff to arrive.
You should receive a bill of sale from the leasing company at the time of purchase, regardless of whether you pay cash or finance the vehicle.
Neil Kokemuller has been an active business, finance and education writer and content media website developer since 2007. He has been a college marketing professor since 2004. Kokemuller has additional professional experience in marketing, retail and small business. He holds a Master of Business Administration from Iowa State University.