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Strategies for Business Success - Buy or Lease?

By Charles Hopkins Published 06/1/2006 | Business and Finance
You are starting or expanding your business - great! But you are looking at many more demands on your finances: office equipment, tools, furniture, computers and peripherals, vehicles, etc. Deciding whether to buy or lease what you need might seem overwhelming.

Leasing is tempting to many, as it requires less cash up front. Having enough cash is essential for survival when beginning or expanding your business, as you will also need to invest in many intangibles such as marketing, licensing, or hiring help. But, leasing usually costs more in the long run, often quite a bit more, and you are normally committed to a contracted time period. There are advantages and disadvantages to both.

Let's look at some of the pros and cons:

Some Advantages of Leasing:

1. Lower Costs at Start-Up
Few businesses have "more than enough" cash on hand, especially when just beginning or expanding. Lower start-up costs can give you more time to get settled into the marketplace and get the word out about your products and services, giving you a much better chance of surviving those risky first years. You can get a lot more for a lot less immediate expenditure by leasing. Buying 20 computers will cost you thousands of dollars; leasing 20 computers may only run you a few hundred dollars per month.

2. Support and Maintenance
Leased equipment usually includes ongoing support, maintenance, upgrading, and possibly even training for you and your staff. You can even "lease" your business management software and services by way of online subscription. This can enable even the smallest business to have the latest software versions automatically provided, and support staff on-call in the event of trouble. (You might be amazed to learn how much time is lost and headaches created in many small businesses by confusing and challenging management and record keeping software and systems.) With hardware, it is far easier, for example, to call the lessor and have a broken copier replaced immediately than to wait for the repair serviceman for your purchased copier, wait out the downtime, and then face the bill for his services.

3. Flexibility
When you buy something, even if your needs change or better technology becomes available, your investment is tied up in the purchased item. Leasing may allow you to update or replace your equipment or furniture when you need to, or even get rid of the commitment if you no longer need the item.

4. Tax Advantage
Most lease payments can be fully deducted in the year you paid them, whereas major equipment purchases may have to be depreciated over several years. Since your money will likely be tighter in the beginning months and years of your business, the ability to offset lease expenses against your initial investments may help you greatly at tax time.

Some Advantages of Buying Equipment and Supplies Outright:

1. Lower Lifetime Costs
Many things will cost you far less in total if you purchase them outright rather than leasing. You might pay 300 for an ergonomic desk chair that will serve you well for many years. The same chair, if leased, might run you 30 per month. You would then be paying 360 per year for the leased chair.

2. Lower Monthly Overhead
When you lease, you must pay the lessor on time, regardless of the level of cash on hand. If the income of your business varies widely from month to month, you can choose to only purchase equipment when you have the cash on hand and you will have fewer problems meeting your monthly budget.

3. Assets Rather than Liabilities
What you buy outright becomes an asset of your business, and so enhances your "bottom line." Lease payments, on the other hand, qualify as liabilities, and so lower your company's value. This may be important if you need to get a business loan or decide to sell your business. If you move or go out of business, your assets may be sold or taken with you, but it may be much harder to dispose of your lease contracts.

4. Tax Advantage
Since the IRS allows you to deduct a large amount of your business purchases from your gross income, if you are having a good year you may save significantly more by purchasing outright rather than leasing.

So, obviously there are pros and cons of buying as well as leasing. Here are some tips to help you make the best decision:

Leases are best for more expensive items, and cash purchases for less expensive items. Lower cost items can usually be afforded from income on hand, but it may not be advisable to deplete your funds to make larger purchases. If you lease the larger items, you can budget to save and purchase your own later, and still have management and promotion funds available now.

Check with your tax advisor. Find out the financial and tax implications of leasing versus buying for your individual situation.

Last but certainly not least, don't be tempted to buy what you don't really need. If you are just getting started, use thrift-shop desks and other furniture, settle for a good telephone with answering machine rather than the full inter-office network being promoted, and watch for office or industrial close-out sales or auctions, where you can buy still-serviceable supplies for pennies on the dollar. If your company is to grow and thrive, cash in the bank is worth much more than beautiful furniture or the latest techno-marvel.