If it's December it must be time for all those "December to Remember" car commercials where you see people finding new cars with big red bows in their driveways or motoring down the suburban street. Dealerships from coast to coast are pushing end of the year lease deals and incentives trying encourage you to leave with more car than you would otherwise be able to afford if you were buying a vehicle.

They do this because car salesmen and women as well as the dealership both make more money on a lease than a sale.A lease counts as a sale for the full list price on the unit, so the salesperson, and the dealership make the maximum amount possible.

At the end of the lease term, you have the option of walking away from the lease, leasing another unit, or purchasing the vehicle you're currently driving, in which case they get to sell you the car all over again. If you decide to end the lease, the car is re-sold as a low mileage used car or sold at auction. In any event, the dealer basically gets to sell the same car twice, minus some depreciation.

So you leave the dealership with a brand new car and a lease agreement filled with a mileage per year limit and other requirements. In fact, you are also responsible for insurance, maintenance, registration, and everything else, just as if you bought the car. The difference is that it's generally going to cost you more to insure as well as to maintain because you're also required to return it in mint condition. That means no dings and no pings and smelling like new.

After the first year and a half of a three year lease, you begin to wonder if you've made the right choice. The car is costing you more than you anticipated and you still have another 18 months to go. Well, a cottage industry has developed just to address situations like this and it involves a service that matches people who want to get out of their lease with people who want to lease a car but for less than they would if they went to a dealer. It's sort of a used car lot for leased cars.

Get in, get out

One of the major companies in this field is LeaseTrader.com and it expects to process more than 75,000 lease escape transactions this year, a 25% increase over last year. According to LeaseTrader.com, people who walk away from their lease escape an average of $10,000 in early termination fees. It adds that December is now the largest month when people give the gift of car lease transfer more so than any other month noting that in last two Decembers roughly 1 out of every 7 transactions were the result of escape packages given as gifts.

With unemployment still at high levels LeaseTrader.com expects more of the same this December. Sergio Stiberman, CEO and founder of LeaseTrader.com, says "the auto industry and leasing in general are picking up a lot of steam with aggressive lease deals, but there is still plenty of hurt in the economy and for millions they need a way to get a financial monkey off their back."

Edmonds.com says leasing makes up more than 20% of all new-car deals adding that it appeals to people who can't afford to buy expensive cars but still want to drive them. Car dealers are hyping leases as a way to lock in a low monthly payments, while people forget the other costs involved such as higher insurance premiums.

LeaseTrader.com predicts the number of people escaping a lease because they can't afford it will jump to 4.5% of transactions this year -- more than double the 2% annual rate in previous years.

What you should do: Don't lease a car unless you really do your homework. The Federal Trade Commission or FTC has some advice on this topic.  If you're in a lease you can't afford, check out |”3steps to break a lease without getting rear-ended." If you're shopping for new wheels, go to sites like LeaseTrader.com or Swapalease.com to see if you can scoop up a bargain by taking over a lease from someone who can no longer afford it.