While a growing number of auto companies (Hyundai and Ford, to name a couple) are offering guarantees that let you bring your new car back if you lose your job shortly after purchasing it, a third-party marketplace is springing up for Americans locked into a lease they no longer want or can't afford.

What this article at TheStreet.com dubs a "growing cottage industry" of firms -- mostly Web-based -- are evolving to meet the needs of lease-swappers, people who want out of their leases without having to pay hefty termination fees and the buyers who want a deal on a gently-used lease.

Due to the recession and growing unemployment rate, lease swapping sites say they're handling a growing number of swaps as more Americans look for ways to trim their budgets.

So how does this online swap meet work? The first thing you need to know is that you have to pay to play. Swap sites charge "sellers" a variety of fees for everything from posting your car to running credit reports on potential "buyers" to handling the paperwork and transfer, and those can add up quickly.
If you don't feel like ponying up what could be as much as a few hundred bucks, you could always use Craigslist or another classified service to try advertising the vehicle on your own, but then you'll have to contend with the usual pitfalls of trying to unload a vehicle yourself -- potentially sketchy buyers who might waste your time and never commit -- along with the extra paperwork necessary to transfer a lease.

The other thing to know before you dive in is that not all lease agreements will let you transfer the vehicle and payment obligations to another lessee. The lease contract might spell it out, or you can call your automaker's leasing department to make sure. Do not agree to swap your lease if your lease company requires you to remain on the paperwork as a co-borrower, or you could wind up on the hook for that lease you thought you'd gotten out of your hair.

What's in it for buyers? Buying a secondhand lease lets you skip making any down payment and gives you a shorter term than off-the-rack leases. Some auto leasing departments may charge buyers to take over a lease; you can definitely haggle with the would-be swapper to see if they'll pay what the car companies call the "assumption fee" or split it with you.

One caveat: These Web sites aren't a quick fix if you're in dire financial straits. Comments on user forums indicate it can sometimes take several weeks for a lease to be officially transferred to the new lessee.

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