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Fleeting Moment

Fleet leasing provides big breaks to entrepreneurs. Find out what's in it for you.

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to small businesses is big business for manufacturers, particularly the Big Three in . As with consumer leasing, dealers negotiate the price but do not provide lease financing plans for businesses. Dealers are commission agents for leasing companies that are often manufacturer subsidiaries, such as Chrysler Financial, Credit Commercial Lending Services or GM's Acceptance Corp., and also for banks and lending companies, such as GE Capital Fleet Services. If you can pony up a hefty initial payment, known as a capital cost reduction, your monthly payments should be low; but there may be a disposition and other fees when you return the fleet, so read the fine print.

Not all light trucks are available for fleet leasing. 's compact Tacoma and full-size Tundra pickups will not be in fleets; and if you choose to lease a fleet of Chevrolet Silverado or GMC Sierra hybrid pickups, you'll pay approximately $2,500 more than the standard price.

Leasing is simply another method of paying for a vehicle, and fleet leasing is a way to acquire five or more new or used , receive a single monthly bill, and enjoy several business benefits. Generally, two months' down payment is required, monthly lease payments are calculated lower than purchase payments, and you pay only for the vehicle's value that you use. The best leases, according to auto research company IntelliChoice (, are manufacturers' subsidized leases with net interest rates under APR.

The advantages: You hold onto more of your capital, get tax deductions for lease interest payments, can switch to new models every two to four years, have vehicles that are always under warranty, get incentives and rebates, and can participate in manufacturers' fleet leasing programs. These programs can include financial advisors and fleet management, saving you time and .

The downside to leasing: limits of 15,000 miles annually and extra charges if you exceed those limits. Customizing and modifying are not normally permitted, although signs can be painted on if you remove them before returning the vehicle. If you need to terminate the lease early, you can be hit with a high penalty; and at the end of the lease, you have to hand the ve-hicle back unless you pay the residual value to own it.

The fattest incentives and rebates, such as cut-rate financing and free options, are offered on leased fleets, due to volume. The larger the number of trucks you lease, the bigger the incentive. Ford offers fleet customers direct off-invoice cash incentives for its Ford, Lincoln and Mercury models. Over the next two years, Ford plans to increase its fleet leasing incentive programs-it currently offers fleet lessors the same incentives as retail buyers, as well as discounted prices on specific packages of options. and Dodge's On the Job fleet leasing programs include incentives targeting small businesses, allowing you to upfit models for specific job applications and providing discounts on extra equipment. Ford has a massive leasing division, including its Business Preferred Network and Extended Service Plan. These programs assist you with budgeting and maintenance. GM's Fleet and Commercial program includes FleetTrac, which consolidates your billing and keeps track of vehicles.

Smart Tips
Just the Tax: Leased business vehicles carry a higher deductible than owned vehicles, and you can usually write off almost the entire amount of the lease payment. When you purchase, you're limited as to how much you can deduct for depreciation each year. And although leasing can cost more than purchasing a vehicle over the long run, and you don't own it when the lease is up, the tax advantages are almost twice as good as on an owned vehicle. Check with your tax accountant before mak-ing any firm commitments.

Numbers Game: To qualify as a fleet member and receive a Fleet Account Number or Fleet Identification Number from Chrysler/Dodge, Ford and GM, an individual or company is required to purchase or lease five or more vehicles for use during the current or preceding model or calendar year. You also qualify if you currently own or lease 15 vehicles, regard-less of make, model or year. The VIN numbers of your vehicles will be checked for verification. Depending on the number of vehicles, you may qualify for various discounts.

Jill Amadio is Entrepreneur's "Wheels" columnist.

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