Should you lease or buy equipment. It’s a question we are often asked?

As a small business owner, you may wonder whether it’s better to lease or buy equipment.  Your options regarding leasing or buying depend upon the nature of your particular business, but there are a few guidelines you can follow to help you decide what you should do.

If you have the money available and the item you need is really necessary for your business, then it will usually benefit you to buy the item outright.  If there is no way you can raise the finance, then you will have to lease it. This sounds like a simple rule as to whether you should lease or buy equipment but, you should consider the following also.

A caution

Don’t buy an item that will put you at risk of not being able to pay your bills in the next month or so.  Only use surplus cash — and then only if it really is ‘surplus’, not just temporarily in the bank account.  You should consider this in terms of your cashflow forecast and your forthcoming liabilities.

If the options are not so clear cut, then you have some thinking to do.  Ask these questions:

  • How often will you use the item?

If the item is only going to be used every now and then, there is no real point in buying it.  It will lie around for most of the year unused and is therefore a waste of your resources.  So lease or hire the equipment when you require it.

  • What else could you do with the money?

Could you earn a better rate of return on the capital required for the item if you invested it in your business?  Your business might be at the stage where a few thousand ploughed back in as working capital will give you a far better rate of return than tying up the money in equipment.  For example, would the money be better spent on marketing?  In this case, it might pay you to lease. So, should you lease or buy equipment is starting to become a bit more complicated!

The effect on net profit

The bottom line is always:  How will your decision to buy or lease affect net profit?

Let’s take a simple example and calculate the net profit results for both options.  Suppose you decide the business needs a machine worth $2,000 (we’ll ignore GST).  You can either buy the machine outright or lease it.

  • Option One

If you lease, the machine will cost you around $100 per month or $1,200 for the year.  This can be added to your business expenses.

  • Option Two

If you buy the machine, the total cost of $2,000 cannot be deducted from the net profit, as it will now be regarded as an asset.  Suppose you can depreciate the machine at 33% a year.  This means you can claim $660 as an expense for the year ($2,000 x 33%).

Comparative costs

  • Option One

You’ve spent $1,200 in cash on the machine and can claim it as a business expense, so you’ll pay less tax (as opposed to not having the machine at all) of $288 (assuming a tax rate of 24%).  Therefore, you could say that you’ve spent $1,200 and ‘saved’ $288, giving a net cash out for the business of $912 for the tax year.

  • Option Two

You spend $2,000 in cash and claim $660 as a depreciation expense, which gives you a tax ‘saving’ of $158 (24% of $660), so your net cash out is $1,842. Therefore, in the first year it would have been better for the business, as far as cashflow is concerned, to have leased the machine.  But what about year two? In Option One you’d still have to pay $1,200 in rent for that second year, and the net cash out is still $912.

But in Option Two, you have no further cash to pay and can still claim depreciation of $442 (33% of the asset’s now depreciated book value of $1340), which gives you a ‘saving’ of $106.

This comparison shows that, whilst you might have gained a slightly better cashflow situation in year one, the lease option becomes far less attractive in subsequent years.

So, as a rule of thumb, if you lease equipment you will make a cash saving in the first year or two, and this is a viable alternative if you do not have the cash (especially for equipment that may cost thousands of dollars or items you do not use regularly).  However, in the long term, it’s much better to buy equipment outright, provided you can safely ride out the initial heavy cash commitment.

High-tech equipment

One additional factor is worth considering, though.  When it comes to equipment that is strongly technology based (such as computers or photocopiers), then people often choose to lease with terms that allow them to upgrade to new technology as it becomes available.

In this way, you avoid being stuck with outdated equipment that has little resale value or no longer serves your needs.  This is often very much a judgement call that you can only make after speaking to the salesperson concerned.

It’s a constant juggling act with the question of should you lease or buy equipment between maintaining competitive advantage with your equipment and processes and ensuring you have a strong cashflow for your business’ survival.  At BSN & Co we understand this struggle and can help you plan what’s best for your business.  After all, there is no “one size fits all” rule for purchasing equipment.  We will work with you to assess your needs and determine whether you should lease or buy equipment.