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Which Truck Driver Career Is Right For You?

Ever considered what opportunities are available in the truck driving career path? Are you curious about how much each career path pays? Continue reading to find out!

If you are considering becoming a truck driver it’s important that you understand some of the different types of career opportunities for drivers. To learn more about how to receive your CDL after completing ELDT and receiving your CLP, click here. Once you receive your CDL, there are multiple paths or roles you might consider when becoming a driver. These paths include (but are not limited to):


  • Owner-Operator

  • Independent Truck Driver

  • Lease Contractor

  • For-Hire Carrier (Common Carrier) Driver

  • Private Carrier Driver

Let’s chat about each of these job types, the average pay, the benefits of each, and the challenges of each.


Self-Employed

There are typically three ways a driver can become self-employed. 1) They can create their own trucking company, use their own operating authority, and find their own loads as an owner-operator. 2) They can contract with another carrier using the carrier’s authority, but still use their own assets as an independent truck driver. 3) Lastly, they can lease their equipment from a large carrier (e.g., Schneider, Ryder, Penske, Landstar) and use the carrier’s authority.


Owner-Operator

An owner-operator is a driver who chooses to work under their own authority, source their own loads, manage all business operations and expenses, and personally finance their own equipment through a third party.


Benefits:

  • Pick the equipment that meets your specific needs

  • Typically higher pay

  • Self-Employment – the ability to set your own rules, hours, and preferences.

  • Flexibility

  • Choose ideal freight and routes

Challenges:

  • Additional costs and expenses (licensing, insurance, maintenance, fuel, etc.)

  • Higher risk to the business in terms of breakdowns, accidents, damage to freight, etc.

  • The learning curve for entering the industry (we can help!)

  • No guarantee of loads and income (may require more hustle)

  • Accounts Receivable are on you to invoice and collect

  • No benefits package (retirement, health insurance, etc)

Independent Truck Driver

A driver can lease their driving services and equipment to a carrier and work under the carrier’s operating authority (MC). The driver is an ‘independent truck driver’ in this model and NOT a company driver. An independent truck driver with their own assets who decides to work with a carrier that will support sales activities and dispatching needs will experience many of the same benefits as an owner-operator. Again, an independent truck driver works under the contract carrier’s authority. A large difference between the two models is the pay. A carrier will typically charge an independent driver a fee for their services through a percentage of revenue program. This range can vary depending on the carrier, but most programs range from 30-80% of gross revenue.


Working with a carrier can also give independent truck drivers access to the carrier's training programs, fuel programs, knowledge, and experience. Independent truck drivers can also be paid by the carrier on a weekly, bi-weekly, or after-delivery basis rather than waiting on their customer's pay terms (which can sometimes be 30-60 days). An independent truck driver is still responsible for managing their own operational expenses, tax reporting, and insurance.


Benefits:

  • Pick the equipment that meets your specific needs

  • Relatively high pay (usually less than owner-operator)

  • Self-Employment – the ability to set your own rules, hours, and preferences.

  • Flexibility

  • Choose ideal freight and routes

  • Quicker pay terms

  • Loads sourced (can pick and choose which loads to haul)

  • Access to carrier knowledge and programs

Challenges:

  • Additional costs and expenses (licensing, insurance, maintenance, fuel, etc.)

  • Higher risk if the business fails, breakdowns, accidents, damage to freight, etc.

  • No guarantee of income

  • Accounts Receivable

  • No benefits package (retirement, health insurance, etc)

  • Shared revenue with carrier

  • Still need to manage expenses, tax reporting, and insurance

  • Not building your own book of business

  • No benefits package (retirement, health insurance, etc)

Lease Contractor

Larger carriers such as Schneider, Ryder, Penske, and Landstar will allow drivers to lease the carrier’s equipment and use their operating authority to conduct business. A lease contractor is still considered to be self-employed. A lease contractor is similar to an independent truck driver but does not use a third party to lease or own equipment. Lease contractors typically make more than company drivers, but usually less than owner-operators. Lease programs are a great way for new drivers to start on the path of becoming an owner-operator. There are two types of lease programs:

  • Lease Purchase Program/Lease-To-Own – down payment required ($10,000-15,000) and equipment is owned by the driver at the end of the contract

  • Lease Operator Program – pay no money down and equipment must be returned at the end of the contract

Benefits:

  • Pick the equipment that meets your specific needs

  • New equipment

  • Relatively high pay (usually less than owner-operator)

  • Self-Employment – the ability to set your own rules, hours, and preferences.

  • Flexibility

  • Quicker pay terms (depending on agreement terms)

  • Access to carrier knowledge and programs

  • Customize lease agreement length

  • Carrier perks and programs

  • Administrative benefits (load management, dispatching, etc) (depending on agreement terms)

Challenges:

  • Early payoff penalties

  • Unfavorable contract agreements or unmet promises

  • Less flexibility

  • No benefits package (retirement, health insurance, etc)

  • Additional costs and expenses (licensing, insurance, maintenance, fuel, etc.)

  • No guarantee of income

  • Accounts Receivable

  • Shared revenue with the carrier (depending on agreement terms)

  • Still need to manage expenses, tax reporting, and insurance

  • Higher business failure rate than other roles

Company Driver

As you would suspect, Company Drivers are drivers who are directly employed by a carrier company. There is a significant difference between self-employed drivers and company drivers. Company drivers drive a company truck, get paid by the mile or by the hour, and must haul the loads that are assigned to them by the company. A company driver does not need to be as concerned with managing operational expenses such as maintenance or fuel. As a company driver, there are two types of carriers you can work for:

  • For-Hire Carrier (Common Carrier): A for-hire carrier is a carrier who has the authority to sell their transportation services to a shipper/customer/broker and move freight for other entities.

  • Private Carrier – A private carrier has an in-house trucking fleet that services a parent company (a retailer or manufacturer [e.g., Walmart]) whose primary business is not transportation. It should be noted that sometimes private fleet carriers will receive their for-hire operating authority to sell their available trucking capacity when it is not being used by the parent company. For example, a steel manufacturer has their own fleet of trucks and employs company drivers to haul their steel products. They also received for-hire authority so that the company trucks/drivers could pick up supplier material or other various freight on their backhaul to either produce additional revenue or pay for the trucking expenses. Not all private fleets have for-hire authority.

It's important to understand the difference between the two types of company drivers because daily operations can vary widely. Working for a for-hire carrier could mean picking up from and delivering to many different shippers and receivers each week. A private carrier may employ drivers on a single daily/weekly route. This is not always the case, but it is very common.


Benefits:

  • Consistent weekly/biweekly pay

  • Limited business management

  • Less investment and risk

  • Employee Benefit packages (health insurance, retirement, etc)

Challenges:

  • Less pay than self-employment

  • Less flexibility

  • Less control of loads, routes, hours, pay

Average Pay

Using a variety of sources in our research on this subject, we have estimated the following pay range for Self-Employed Drivers and Company Drivers.


Self-Employed Drivers

Self-employed drivers on average take home a gross revenue (pay) of $100k-$200k, but after deducting operating expenses the average net take-home pay lands somewhere in the range of $60,000-$120,000. Take-home pay can be lower than average when drivers first start their business but will increase as business ramps up.


As an owner-operator, many variables will play a role in your yearly take-home salary. You will often see high gross pay mistakenly or deceptively advertised as take-home pay, but this high amount likely does not account for operating expenses. Variables that will impact your pay include (but are not limited to):

  • Operating expenses

  • Experience

  • Location

  • Over the Road (OTR) vs. Local/Regional

  • Team Driving vs. Solo Driving

Company Drivers

Company drivers on average take home an annual salary of $45,000 - $100,000.


If you are preparing for a company driver interview, check out our blog on common interview questions for truck drivers.


There are two major choices when it comes to starting your professional driving career – starting your own trucking business or working as a company driver. There are multiple ways to start your trucking business with different levels of investment, risk, pay, and support. If you feel drawn to the idea of starting your own trucking business, and if you feel you have the inner drive to drive, Soshaul can help! Please check out our free and for-purchase resources, free templates, and in-depth courses available on our website.


Ready to START, DRIVE, & ACCELERATE your trucking business? Check out our course here!


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Soshaul Logistics LLC and its affiliates do not provide tax, legal or accounting advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal or accounting advice. It is meant to serve as a guide and information only and Soshaul Logistics, LLC - Copyright 2023 - does not assume responsibility for any omissions, errors, or ambiguity contained herein. You should consult your own tax, legal and accounting advisors before engaging in any transaction or operation.

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