How much an owner operator gets paid is affected greatly by expenses. According to Indeed, an independent truck driver’s gross pay averages $183,000 per year, but expenses can run over 70% percent. Thus the average owner operator pay drops to around $50,000-$60,000 take-home.
Many independent truck drivers sign with a carrier to get consistent work. There are two common owner operator income programs: “percent of load” or mileage. According to a survey of 4,000 truckers conducted by StayMetrics, about half of independent truck drivers were paid by percentage and about half by the mile.
Percent of load programs pay anywhere between 25% to 85% of the gross load revenue. This means you get a good cut from high-paying loads, but low-paying loads hit you, too. Percent of load pay can be volatile, making it hard to plan finances. These programs work best for those who are very careful with their finances and who don’t budget based on best-case scenarios.
With mileage pay, you’re more likely to have deadhead covered and your pay is the same regardless of how much trucking companies make on their load invoice, good or bad. This consistency is important for many truckers, especially those with families at home.
While there are pros and cons to each, studies show that percentage-paid truckers are more satisfied with their jobs overall, though they tend to switch carriers more often to keep up with the best rates. (But be careful changing carriers too much—sometimes staying with a carrier pays better in the long-term as you develop a closer business relationship over a number of years.)
Increase Truck Driver Earnings – Tips for Owner Operators
Still, most experienced truckers will agree that keeping your expenses down is one of the best ways to increase an owner operator’s income. Expenses break down into two main categories: fixed and variable. Your fixed expenses, like truck payments, insurance, and permits are inescapable and largely unchangeable. However, your variable costs can be reduced with a variety of strategies.
For instance, if your fuel costs are high, you may look at reducing your speed, cutting idle time, and renegotiate your fuel surcharges with your carrier. You will also want to look at your empty miles. Using a digital freight matching service can help you find instantly find nearby loads to reduce deadhead expenses.
Saving on food and drink is another way to increase your owner operator salary after expenses. Keeping a cooler on hand allows you to purchase drinks in bulk, and a microwave or hotpot combined with a power inverter can make cooking at “home” cheaper than dining out every meal. Taking care of your health with better food will also reduce your healthcare expenses long-term.
So how much do trucking companies make? It’s largely up to you. Becoming an independent truck driver can allow you more control over your salary by giving you the opportunity to shop around for the best payment programs while managing your own finances and expenses to maximize your owner operator income.