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Grow Your Business Technology

Office Printers: The Facts About Leasing vs. Buying

Printers buy or lease
Credit: KoOlyphoto/Shutterstock

For businesses with high printing and copying demand and large workgroups, a laser printer (or digital copier) makes sense. These devices come in a range of models. High-end model laser printers/copiers tend to be big in every way: They often take up significant floor space, support a range of paper sizes, deal with high print volumes – and often have a big price tag to match. Machines may range from the low thousands to more than $10,000.

For an individual or a business, that can be a large bite of budget to break off. And the initial investment doesn't include the ongoing costs of a laser printer, such as toner replacements and paper, nor the inevitable maintenance and repairs..

The high price points and ongoing maintenance requirements lead many small businesses to consider leasing their laser printer. In the world of printing technology, leasing is commonly referred to as "managed print services," which includes many products and services beyond the printer itself.

You can lease a printer/copier in the conventional sense, but throughout the last decade, the idea of leasing has morphed into what industry experts refer to as managed print services. Managed print services go beyond simply leasing to take a holistic view of your printer needs. Often, this means the leasing cost is bundled with costs for maintenance and paper and toner so that businesses get an all-in-one package for their lease.

Big data and IoT have taken managed print services even further. Data can track your print usage down to the department level. Depending on the manufacturer or supplier, managed print services might include supplies, preventative maintenance, onsite support, billing and usage tracking, and more. For organizations with limited IT bandwidth, a managed services lease offers a path to streamlined management (and it's just less hassle).

There are two primary types of business equipment leases: operating leases and capital leases.

  • Operating leases: Most businesses choose operating leases, also called fair market value leases, because they offer lower monthly payments than capital leases. When a business gets an operating lease for a copier or printer, it's essentially renting the equipment, so the asset never gets added to the lessee's balance sheet. When the lease ends, the lessee has the option to buy the copier, but the buyout cost will be calculated by the lessor based on agreement terms, depreciation, wear and tear, new technology, and market demand. In general, operating leases make the most sense for businesses that don't want the hassle of owning a copier or printer, preferring to continually lease recent models instead.
     
  • Capital leases: Sometimes called $1 buyout leases, capital leases are the less common choice for businesses. When a business gets a capital lease for a piece of equipment, it's more like a loan on the money than a rental on the equipment, so the interest and principal being paid is going toward the cost of the copier, and the copier goes on the lessee's balance sheet. The monthly rate for a capital lease is higher, because 100 percent of the cost of the equipment is being financed. However, a capital lease does offer an advantage for lessees who plan on eventually buying, because the buyout cost is stipulated in the contract at the point of signing. In general, capital leases make the most sense for businesses that want to purchase and own a printer or copier without making the entire purchase upfront. 

Editor's note: Looking for a digital copier for your business? If you're looking for information to help you choose the one that's right for you, use the questionnaire below to have our sister site, BuyerZone, provide you with information from vendors for free:

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  • Avoiding obsolescence: Leasing equipment is an easy way to avoid obsolescence, which is a major concern for some companies and a nonissue for others. Businesses that only require basic printers and copiers are usually less affected by obsolescence than those that rely on highly specialized printers with specific high-tech features. 
  • Low upfront costs: Leasing not only allows businesses to obtain printers with low upfront costs, it also helps preserve credit. Many small businesses have limited access to credit and want to avoid using it whenever possible; leasing equipment is one way to do that.
  • No hassle: When a company leases printers, there is no resale or disposal hassle. Leasing is also convenient because most equipment providers offer maintenance plans, which can be included in the lease itself or paid for separately. Companies with limited IT staff often choose leasing for maintenance purposes alone.
  • More expensive: Equipment leasing wouldn't be a business if it wasn't profitable, and the reason it's profitable is because the lessee pays interest. At the end of a lease term, most lessees will have paid more than the actual value of the copier. Even in rent-to-own scenarios, such as with capital leases, the lessee/eventual purchaser usually ends up paying more than market value for the printer. In addition to paying more for the actual cost of the printer, many businesses overpay for maintenance plans. When a maintenance plan is included in the equipment lease, not obtained separately, the lessee is paying interest on the copier and on the maintenance plan.
  • Locked into a contract: For small businesses, especially startups, being locked into a printer lease can be a negative. As businesses change and grow, their printing needs evolve. A printer the company leased when it only had 10 employees may not be adequate for a 75-person workplace. Similarly, some small business owners overestimate what they need in a printer or copier and end up stuck with a lease for something unnecessarily expensive.
  • Less expensive: It is almost always less expensive in the long run to purchase a printer or copier than it is to lease one. Companies that want to minimize the amount they pay in interest for goods and services will usually opt for buying over leasing.
  • Recoup investment: Even though a printer is a depreciating asset, a used printer can be sold if it's no longer needed, whereas a leased printer cannot.
  • No contracts: When a company purchases a printer, it's not locked into a contract with a third-party provider.
  • Flexible maintenance: A leased printer is the property of the lessor, which typically means the lessee is not contractually allowed to perform any type of maintenance. This puts the lessee at the mercy of the lessor when things break. When a company owns equipment outright, the manager or owner can immediately hire the tech of their choice to service company printers without hesitation or outside approval.
  • Initial expense: The expense of purchasing a printer outright is too much for some small businesses to manage. Businesses that require highly specialized industrial printers and copiers often lease rather than buy, because such machines can cost thousands of dollars and are expensive to repair out of pocket.
  • Replacement costs: When a purchased printer is outdated or no longer functioning properly, it's up to the company that owns it to replace it. This type of unexpected cost associated with wear and tear (as well as obsolescence) is a major concern for some business owners.
  • Consistent standards harder to maintain: Companies that have multiple branches sometimes choose to lease equipment because it's easier to maintain the same standards across every location. When purchasing options aren't centralized, different branches can end up with wildly different expenses and levels of technology.

There are tax implications for both buying and leasing printers. Printers are depreciating assets, which can be claimed on taxes, but many equipment leases can also be claimed. Both leased and owned printers fall under Section 179 deduction when companies file taxes, so it's best to consult with your business's accountant before making a final decision on whether to buy or lease.

Additional reporting by Mona Bushnell.

Joanna Furlong

Joanna Furlong is a freelance writer and content strategist based in Southern California. Her background is in digital marketing, but she’s been writing professionally for more than 10 years. She loves to report on the intersection where business, management and technology collide.