Can OTR Truckers Earn More As Owner Operators?
That depends. If the idea of owning your own rig and running your own business sounds like a dream come true, then becoming an owner operator may be the right choice for you.
But life as an owner-operator isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be.
You may see advertisements claiming you can make $100,000 or more per year with your own truck, and while that may be true, this figure doesn’t paint the whole picture.
How Much Do OTR Truckers Make?
An OTR trucker’s salary will depend on experience and the company he or she works for. Naturally, truckers with more experience are paid more.
According to our data, the average salary for OTR drivers is $59,600 per year.
Now, that number will vary greatly depending on location, experience level and the company that a trucker works for. Some only earn $30,000 (especially if they’re new drivers), while others earn more than $90,000 per year.
Even on the lower end, company OTR drivers earn a decent salary.
But can you earn more as an owner-operator?
What is the Average Owner Operator Salary?
Owner-operator pay varies just as much as an OTR trucker’s salary.
But one thing is for sure: owner operators earn a higher gross salary.
So How Much Do Owner Operators Make?
According to a survey of 160,884 owner-operators, they earn an average salary of $220,591. That’s more than triple the average salary of an OTR trucker.
Owner Operator Pay Scale
Owner Operator Gross Earnings
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But again, this is the average gross salary and you should not stop there. You should dig deeper to better understand what owner-0perators trucking operators are actually bringing home each week after expenses are taken out.
Now the better question is how much do owner-operators actually net?
In reality, many owner-operators will only take home $45,000-$80,000 per year with a 1st year average of $52,500.
Of course, this will vary depending on how much they gross and their actual expenses.
Why do owner-operators take home less than half of what they gross? One word: expenses.
What kind of expenses do owner-operators have to deal with?
Does your truck need new tires? You’ll be the one paying for that. Need new brakes? Did you have some engine trouble on your last trip? All of these repairs will be paid for by you.
Everything from oil changes to new tires and major repairs will come out of your pocket.
Buying a Truck
One of the biggest expenses that owner-operators have is their truck payments. New trucks will come with even higher payments.
Taxes and Paperwork
As a company driver, you rarely have to worry about taxes – the company takes care of that for you. However, as an owner-operator, you have plenty of taxes that you’ll be responsible for paying, including:
- Fuel taxes
- Self-employment taxes
- Estimated taxes
- Ad Valorem tax
- Federal Heavy Vehicle Use Tax
- Stat income tax
And the list goes on. Owner-operators also have a lot of paperwork to deal with, which can also be costly.
Company drivers can take advantage of their employer’s group health insurance.
However, as an owner-operator, you will have to purchase private medical insurance.
Private insurance can be very expensive – sometimes double or triple the cost of group insurance offered by an employer.
As you can see, owner-operators have a lot of expenses.
That’s not to say that being an owner-operator isn’t rewarding. There are many owner-operators on the road today, and they love doing what they do. And because there is no limit to how much you can earn , there are still a great deal of them who make well over $150,000 a year.
Leasing Programs vs. Buying Your Own Truck
Many truckers join leasing programs that allow them to operate their own trucks at a more affordable rate. These programs often put drivers in their own trucks for zero down and a standard monthly payment.
While leasing programs are one of the easiest ways to get started as an owner-operator, they can also set some drivers up for failure.
According to the Internet TruckStop load board, drivers who enter these leasing programs experience an 87% failure rate.
Unfortunately, some of the carriers that offer these programs will decrease the driver’s mileage, so they can’t make the monthly payment on time. Some will also add so many deductions that they wind up taking the majority of the driver’s income.
That being said, not all leasing programs are bad. It’s important to thoroughly research the carrier and the program before signing on.
Many experienced owner-operators do not recommend that drivers who just completed truck driver training join one of these programs.
Most will recommend signing on as a company driver for a good carrier, and then make the decision to go independent after gaining a year or two of experience.
Owner Operator Jobs – Authority or Lease?
So, you understand the expenses and responsibilities that go along with being an owner-operator, and you still want to go forward with it.
Should you obtain your own authority, or lease your truck?
Many owner-operators choose to lease their trucks to companies.
This may be a good option for drivers who are just getting started as an owner-operator because it offers many benefits, including:
- Consistent loads and freight.
- Trailers are provided by the company.
- Most will offer access to fuel cards, money transfer systems and cash advances.
- Most will offer access to insurance policies with fleet rates.
- Paid plates, tolls and permits.
While leasing your truck does come with advantages, there are many drivers who prefer to obtain their own authority.
Having your own authority can also offer many advantages, including:
- Not having to deal with company politics or policies, and company dispatchers that show favoritism.
- Having the ability to select the loads you want.
- Having the freedom to choose when you run, and when you don’t.
Ultimately, the choice between obtaining authority and leasing your truck comes down to personal preference. But if you do choose to lease your truck, you will get paid less per mile.
At the end of the day, OTR truckers can earn more as an owner-operator. Whether or not they do will depend on the trucker’s own personal work ethic and desire to run his or her own business.