If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to see the country through the eyes of a truck driver, now’s a good time to stop wondering and head to your nearest driving school.
Heavy demand for truck drivers has pushed up pay, benefits and bonuses for truckers across all parts of the country and industries. Even states that pay comparatively low commercial truck driver salaries — and there’s a huge gap in pay between the states — have upped the ante to attract enough drivers.
“Now is a phenomenal time for drivers to join the industry,” said Bill Viers, an agent for GlobalTranz, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based provider of logistics services and freight management technology. “There’s a major shortage of drivers now — so much so that there aren’t enough drivers to cover the loads. Wages have gone up substantially over the past few years.”
Demand for truckers is partly the result of the bustling U.S. economy and partly the result of a tight labor market. The trucking industry has seen a steady rise in orders and revenue in recent years at the same time many carriers have complained of a truck driver shortage.
For carriers, the labor situation has created an ongoing headache finding enough truck drivers to haul their freight. For many drivers, though, it’s been a financial windfall. Plus, it’s opened doors for people like you to start your own trucking business.
Table of Contents
- State Rankings
- How Much Do Truck Drivers Make a Year?
- The Trucking Industry’s Biggest Problems
- The Best States for Truck Driver Salaries
- The Worst States for Truck Driver Salaries
- How Much Walmart Trucker Drivers Make
- Factors That Can Affect Truck Driver Salary
- How to Make More Money as a Trucker
- Small vs. Big Trucking Companies: Who Pays More?
- Truck Driver Work Benefits
- Bonus Pay for Truck Drivers
- How Cost of Living Affects Truck Driver Salary
- Who Will Fill the Truck Driver Gap?
- Truck Driver Training
- How Much New Truck Drivers Make
- Types of Truck Driver Jobs
- Industries That Employ the Most Truck Drivers
- How to Make More Money By Starting Your Own Trucking Company
- Financing Options for Trucking Owner-Operators
How Much Truck Drivers Make a Year
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (the BLS) reports that the average annual wage for tractor-trailer truck drivers was $45,570 as of May 2018, the most recent data available. That’s up from $43,590 two years earlier. Since 2006, when the average annual wage was $36,320, the average annual salary for truck drivers has risen 20 percent.
The amount you’ll actually make as a trucker depends on many things, including location, years of experience and whether or not you’re CDL trained. The graph below shows the distribution of median truck driver wages, which varies. But there are additional factors at play.
Natural economic cycles, including inflation, have contributed to the rise in trucker pay. Many occupations have seen higher wages over the past few years amid record low unemployment and heated competition for workers. Wage growth for truck drivers is not that different from wage growth overall.
The difference for America’s roughly 3.5 million truck drivers, according to the American Trucking Associations (ATA), is that wages should remain steady for the foreseeable future as the industry grapples with finding enough drivers to fill its orders, especially as many experienced drivers begin to retire.
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The Trucking Industry’s Biggest Problems
The ATA, a Virginia-based trade group, estimates the current shortage at more than 50,000 drivers. A report published last fall by The American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) said the driver shortage “ranked as the industry’s top concern for the second consecutive year in 2018.”
Compounding matters, the report said, is “the estimated 898,000 new truck drivers that will be needed over the next decade, half of whom are needed just to replace retiring truck drivers.”
Not everyone in the industry agrees that the main problem is a truck driver shortage. Instead, some say, the problem is driver retention by large trucking companies that don’t want to pay top dollar on commercial truck driver salaries.
“Something that is important to understand is that the messaging in mainstream media about a supposed driver ‘shortage’ is not true,” said Norita Taylor, public relations director at the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), a Missouri-based organization that advocates for the rights of professional truck drivers.
Taylor points to studies conducted by OOIDA, the BLS and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) showing that many truck drivers are simply leaving large carriers and either hiring on with smaller fleets or becoming independent owner-operators.
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The OOIDA Foundation wrote that “companies operating 100 trucks or fewer have gained 345,925 drivers since 2012, while fleets with 501 or more trucks have added only 169,467 drivers …That trend has contributed to the biggest carriers’ inability to add capacity and is exacerbated by poor driver wages.”
There are plenty of other issues the trucking industry faces head on each and every day. In addition to the driver shortage, other major issues include: hours-of-service, driver retention, electronic logging device mandate and truck parking.
With talk of a major truck driver shortage, the question remains: How will trucking companies go about fixing the problem? That’s a complicated question, not least because there’s no consensus on the extent of the problem, or whether it even exists in the first place.
Truck Drivers Salaries Vary Widely, Study Reveals
How much a trucker actually makes will depend on how they’re paid. The vast majority of trucking companies pay their drivers by the mile rather than the hour, so a lot depends on how many miles you drive. Other factors include location and employer.
State salaries in the U.S. tend to be all over the map — literally. Even rookie drivers working for the same company can expect different pay rates based on where they live. In a new original study, Seek Business Capital examined average annual truck driver wage data from the BLS by state in relation to the average per capita income of all occupations plus each state’s cost of living index, according to the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC). The results show the profound effect location has on salary and could justify an interstate move for many truckers struggling to make ends meet.
The Best States for Truck Driver Salaries
According to the original study conducted by Seek Business Capital, which helps small businesses and startups get fast access to financing, the average annual wage a truck driver earns can vary by as much as $10,000 based on location alone.
Here are the 10 best states for truck drivers, according to Seek Business Capital’s study which also takes the state’s cost of living into account:
|The Best States for Truck Driver Salaries|
|Overall Rank||State||Average Annual Truck Driver Wage||Average Per Capita Income for All Occupations (Incl. Non-Trucking Jobs)||How Much More Truck Drivers Make Than the Average Worker|
The Worst States for Truck Driver Salaries
Though not a state, the data for Washington D.C. is too compelling to ignore. Here are the 10 worst states, plus D.C., for truck driver states:
|The Worst States for Truck Driver Salaries (Plus D.C.)|
|Overall Rank||State (incl. D.C.)||Average Annual Truck Driver Wage||Average Per Capita Income for All Occupations (Incl. Non-Trucking Jobs)||How Much Less Truck Drivers Make Than the Average Worker|
Truck Driver Salaries in Every State
If you’re unhappy with your current truck driver salary, or are considering a new career as a trucker, it’s important you do some research. While moving across state lines isn’t doable for everyone, it could make a huge difference in how much you’re paid, as well as how far that money goes. Even if you can’t move, knowing where your state’s trucker salary stands in relation to others is key to understanding how well you’re compensated.
Seek on Forbes: Is Silicon Valley Going After America’s Truck Drivers?
The rankings and map above are the primary breakdowns of the best and worst states for drivers. But to give you additional context, we’ve included two additional rankings below. Listed alphabetically, you’ll find two rankings for each state. The first ranking, listed as truck driver average wage rank, looks only at state-by-state trick driver wages. The second ranking, listed as cost-of-living rank, puts the trucker wage into the context of the value each state’s trucker salary holds nationwide in relation to the cost-of-living index and average per capita income of all occupations, including non-trucking jobs. Each rank can give you an idea of how to make sense typical trucker salaries in your state in relation to both the small and big picture.
Here’s how much truck driver salaries are in every state:
- Average annual truck driver salary: $40,580
- Average per capita income of all occupations (incl. non-trucking jobs): $38,965
- Truck driver average wage rank: 49
- Cost-of-living rank: 6
Truck drivers in Alabama fare pretty well compared with the rest of the state’s population, earning a average wage that is 4.1 percent higher than the average per capita income. Alabama’s low cost of living means truckers can keep more of that money than they could elsewhere. Alabama ranks in the top half nationally in the number of truck driver jobs with 32,170, though it ranks rear the bottom in mean wages.
- Average annual truck driver salary: $57,630
- Average per capita income of all occupations (incl. non-trucking jobs): $55,940
- Truck driver average wage rank: 1
- Cost-of-living rank: 44
One thing long-haul truck drivers in Alaska can count on is putting in plenty of miles — and running up hefty fuel bills. The distance between the biggest city (Anchorage) and the capital (Juneau) is around 850 miles. For interstate loads, the nearest big city, Seattle, is 2,260 miles from Anchorage. That’s roughly the equivalent of driving from Boston to Phoenix. Interstate loads also require drivers from Alaska to go through Canada, which means you’ll need a passport as well as special fuel and load permits that cost extra money. Truckers in Alaska are well compensated for all this work, earning the highest average wage in the country. They don’t have to pay state income taxes, either, though that’s offset somewhat by a high cost of living.
- Average annual truck driver salary: $45,430
- Average per capita income of all occupations (incl. non-trucking jobs): $39,060
- Truck driver average wage rank: 26
- Cost-of-living rank: 24
Arizona truck drivers do very well compared to others in the state, earning about 16 percent above the average per capita income. Mean wages for Arizona truckers are just shy of the national average, putting drivers here in the middle of the pack in terms of pay. The Grand Canyon State has 25,450 trucker jobs, which is also close to the middle nationally.
- Average annual truck driver salary: $41,980
- Average per capita income of all occupations: $39,107
- Average per capita income of all occupations (incl. non-trucking jobs): 46
- Cost-of-living rank: 3
Truck drivers in Arkansas rank near the bottom nationally in average wages. That’s not a huge worry because of Arkansas’ low cost of living. Arkansas boasts 34,700 truck driver jobs, putting it in the top half of that category nationally even though it’s in the bottom half in terms of population. It helps that Walmart (and its massive trucking operation) is headquartered in Arkansas.
- Average annual truck driver salary: $47,300
- Average per capita income of all occupations (incl. non-trucking jobs): $52,651
- Truck driver average wage rank: 18
- Cost-of-living rank: 49
California isn’t the easiest place for truck drivers to earn a living, and not just because of the notorious traffic jams on its endless series of freeways. Only one state (Hawaii) has a higher cost of living than California, but the Golden State only ranks No. 18 nationally in the average annual wage for truck drivers. Wages for truckers also lag well behind the state’s average per capita income. However, California’s trucker employment is high at more than 138,000 jobs, putting it behind only one state (Texas) in that category.
- Average annual truck driver salary: $48,840
- Average per capita income of all occupations (incl. non-trucking jobs): $50,410
- Truck driver average wage rank: 11
- Cost-of-living rank: 34
Truck drivers in Colorado earn a little less on average than the rest of the state’s population, but they rank pretty high nationally in terms of mean wages. Colorado’s cost of living is higher than average among the 50 states, while employment of truck drivers is a little lower than average at 22,880 jobs.
- Average annual truck driver salary: $49,880
- Average per capita income of all occupations (incl. non-trucking jobs): $66,972
- Truck driver average wage rank: 8
- Cost-of-living rank: 43
Among the states, Connecticut ranks last in truck driver pay compared to the state’s average per capita income. Truckers here earn about 25 percent less than the average person makes. The Constitution State does rank in the top 10 for mean annual wages for truck drivers, but it’s also in the bottom 10 in cost of living.
- Average annual truck driver salary: $44,160
- Average per capita income of all occupations (incl. non-trucking jobs): $47,662
- Truck driver average wage rank: 35
- Cost-of-living rank: 35
From a logistical standpoint, truckers in Delaware are well positioned because of the state’s proximity to so many big cities along the Eastern seaboard, including Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington D.C. Drivers have to pass through a lot of toll roads to get to those places, however. Trucker wages are a little below the national average and below Delaware’s average per capita income. Additionally, Delaware also has a high cost of living compared to most of the country.
District of Columbia
- Average annual truck driver salary: $52,760
- Average per capita income of all occupations (incl. non-trucking jobs): $71,496
- Truck driver average wage rank: 2
- Cost-of-living rank: 50
Though not a state, Washington D.C. is important to examine. Truck drivers in the nation’s capital don’t make nearly as much money as the rest of the district’s population. The mean truck driver wage in D.C. is 26 percent less than the city’s average per capita income — the largest disparity in the nation. On the plus side, D.C. truckers have the second highest mean annual wage nationally. On the minus side, the cost of living rank for D.C. is the second highest behind Hawaii.
- Average annual truck driver salary: $42,020
- Average per capita income of all occupations (incl. non-trucking jobs): $44,101
- Truck driver average wage rank: 44
- Cost-of-living rank: 30
With around 88,000 truck drivers, Florida ranks third in the country for employment volume in the industry. Pay is on the low side, however, as Florida ranks in the bottom 10 nationally in mean annual truck driver wage, even though the state’s cost of living is a little higher than average. Truckers here earn nearly 5 percent less than the state’s average per capita income.
- Average annual truck driver salary: $43,260
- Average per capita income of all occupations (incl. non-trucking jobs): $40,551
- Truck driver average wage rank: 41
- Cost-of-living rank: 11
Truck drivers in Georgia tend to have higher pay than the rest of the state’s population, earning nearly 7 percent more than the average per capita income for all occupations. Georgia’s low ranking in mean annual wages for truckers is offset by its low cost of living. The Peach State is among the nation’s leaders in truck driver employment, with 62,500 jobs.
- Average annual truck driver salary: $48,910
- Average per capita income of all occupations (incl. non-trucking jobs): $47,753
- Truck driver average wage salary: 10
- Cost-of-living rank: 51
One thing truck drivers in Hawaii can’t do (obviously) is drive interstate routes — the Pacific Ocean is about as big a roadblock as you’ll find. That’s partly why Hawaii boasts only 3,300 truck driver jobs, which is the second lowest total among the states. Although Hawaii has the highest cost of living in the country, its mean annual wage for truckers barely cracks the top 10 overall.
- Average annual truck driver salary: $42,010
- Average per capita income of all occupations (incl. non-trucking jobs): $37,509
- Truck driver average wage rank: 45
- Cost-of-living rank: 20
Truck drivers in Idaho rank high in terms of how their pay compares to the rest of the state, earning about 12 percent above the average per capita income. However, mean wages are near the bottom nationally, even though the cost of living in Idaho is only slightly lower than average. Idaho has 11,940 truck driver jobs, placing it in the bottom third in terms of number of jobs nationally. Like most mountain states, Idaho poses a logistical problem for truckers because there aren’t a lot of big cities shipping goods in and out, so driver demand is not as high as in other sections of the country.
- Average annual truck driver salary: $48,650
- Average per capita income of all occupations (incl. non-trucking jobs): $49,471
- Truck driver average wage rank: 13
- Cost-of-living rank: 22
Illinois is near the top of the rankings in the number of truck driver jobs, with more than 70,000. The state’s central location and proximity to so many midwestern urban centers makes it a good location for truckers. Mean wages, which rank in the top third nationally, are impressive considering that Illinois’ cost of living is a little lower than average.
- Average annual truck driver salary: $46,210
- Average per capita income of all occupations (incl. non-trucking jobs): $40,998
- Truck driver average wage rank: 20
- Cost-of-living rank: 9
Indiana truck drivers earn a mean annual wage that is 12.7 percent higher than the state’s per capita income, making it one of the top states in the country in that category. Pay for Indiana truckers is also above average, even though the state boasts a low cost of living. This explains why Indiana, the 17th most populous state, ranks in the top 10 for number of truck driver jobs with 54,560.
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- Average annual truck driver salary: $43,820
- Average per capita income of all occupations (incl. non-trucking jobs): $44,971
- Truck driver average wage rank: 38
- Cost-of-living rank: 13
Truck drivers in Iowa earn slightly less than the state’s per capita income. The mean wage is also on the low side, though that’s partly offset by a low cost of living. Because Iowa’s economy depends so heavily on agriculture, much of its trucking industry is seasonal. Harvest season is a much busier time for many Iowa truckers than the rest of the year.
- Average annual truck driver salary: $46,180
- Average per capita income of all occupations (incl. non-trucking jobs): $45,876
- Truck driver average wage rank: 21
- Cost-of-living rank: 8
Kansas is where you’ll find the geographic middle of the contiguous 48 states, so you can’t get more centrally located as a truck driver. Truckers here rank in the top half nationally for mean annual wages. They can bank a lot of that money, too, because Kansas is one of the cheapest states to live in. That said, the state has 20,730 truck driver jobs, putting it in the lower half of the nation in that category.
- Average annual truck driver salary: $45,550
- Average per capita income of all occupations (incl. non-trucking jobs): $38,989
- Truck driver avergae wage rank: 25
- Cost-of-living rank: 14
Kentucky is another state where truck drivers earn considerably more than the average per capita income. The difference, nearly 17 percent, is among the highest in the country. Mean wages are in the middle of the pack nationally, while Kentucky’s cost of living is on the cheap side. Kentucky is one of four states where truckers need a special license or permit — the KYU Number in its case — beyond the usual permits and licenses needed. According to the state government website, the KYU “is a tax license issued for all carriers traveling on Kentucky roadways with a combined license weight greater than 59,999 pounds. The tax rate is $0.0285 cents per mile.” One-time temporary KYU permits can be purchased by drivers who don’t make regular trips through the state.
- Average annual truck driver salary: $42,090
- Average per capita income of all occupations (incl. non-trucking jobs): $43,252
- Truck driver average wage rank: 43
- Cost-of-living rank: 18
Truck drivers in Louisiana don’t have it nearly as good as truckers in most other Southern states. Louisiana is one of only three states in the Southeast where truck drivers earn less than the average per capita income. Truckers in Louisiana also rank in the bottom 10 nationally in mean wages.
- Average annual truck driver salary: $40,040
- Average per capita income of all occupations (incl. non-trucking jobs): $42,077
- Truck driver average wage rank: 50
- Cost-of-living rank: 39
There’s a reason fewer than 9,000 truck drivers call Maine home: It’s one of the worst states in terms of pay versus cost of living. The mean annual wage for truckers in Maine is second-to-last in the country, yet only 11 states have a higher cost of living. Maine truck drivers also earn nearly 5 percent less than the state’s average per capita income, making other jobs more appealing financially.
- Average annual truck driver salary: $47,940
- Average per capita income of all occupations (incl. non-trucking jobs): $56,127
- Truck driver average wage rank: 16
- Cost-of-living rank: 46
Maryland truck drivers earn 14.59 percent less than the state’s average per capita income. Only six states have a wider gulf on the negative side. The mean annual wage for Maryland truckers is in the top third nationally, but only four states have a higher cost of living.
- Average annual truck driver salary: $50,310
- Average per capita income of all occupations (incl. non-trucking jobs): $61,032
- Truck driver average wage rank: 6
- Cost-of-living rank: 47
Massachusetts is similar to Maryland when it comes to truck driver pay. Truckers make much less than the state’s average per capita income, in part because average incomes in Massachusetts are high compared to the rest of the country. Although Bay State truck drivers are among the best paid in the country, the cost of living is also among the highest. Massachusetts has 27,650 truck driver jobs, which is slightly above the national average.
- Average annual truck driver salary: $43,450
- Average per capita income of all occupations (incl. non-trucking jobs): $42,427
- Truck driver average wage rank: 40
- Cost-of-living rank: 5
Michigan’s auto manufacturing industry isn’t nearly as big as it was a few decades ago, but truck drivers still haul a lot of cars out of the state. Michigan truckers earn slightly more than the state’s average per capita income, but they rank low nationally in mean annual wages. However, they do benefit from one of the lowest costs of living in the U.S.
- Average annual truck driver salary: $48,710
- Average per capita income of all occupations (incl. non-trucking jobs): $50,541
- Truck driver average wage rank: 12
- Cost-of-living rank: 31
Truckers in Minnesota spend a good part of the year hauling through ice or snow, so it’s only right that they’re among the top 25 percent nationally in mean annual pay. On the down side, Minnesota’s nearly 35,000 truck drivers earn 3.6 percent below the state’s average per capita income.
- Average annual truck driver wage: $41,900
- Average per capita income of all occupations (incl. non-trucking jobs): $35,444
- Truck driver average wage rank: 47
- Cost-of-living rank: 1
One thing Mississippi has going for it is a low cost of living. It’s the least expensive state in the country, which helps soften the blow for Mississippi’s 22,710 truck drivers, who are among the nation’s lowest paid. Mississippi is also the poorest state in the country, so it’s no surprise that truckers here earn 18.2 percent more than the average per capita income — the second-highest difference behind only Nevada.
- Average annual truck driver salary: $45,070
- Average per capita income of all occupations (incl. non-trucking jobs): $42,752
- Truck driver average wage rank: 29
- Cost-of-living rank: 4
Missouri is an inviting state for truck drivers because of its central location and low cost of living. Although truckers in Missouri make slightly below the national mean, they earn 5.42 percent more than the state’s average per capita income. Missouri is home to more than 44,000 truck driver jobs, putting it in the top half of that category.
- Average annual truck driver salary: $46,100
- Average per capita income of all occupations (incl. non-trucking jobs): $41,280
- Truck driver average wage rank: 22
- Cost-of-living rank: 33
Montana is the fourth-largest state by area, but it boasts only one city (Billings) with a population above 100,000, so demand for drivers is on the low side. The closest big city to Billings is Salt Lake City, which is more than 500 miles away. Montana also has a pretty high cost of living compared to surrounding states. On the plus side, the mean annual wage for Montana’s 6,440 truck drivers is slightly above the national average, and they earn nearly 12 percent more than the state’s average per capita income.
- Average annual truck driver salary: $44,710
- Average per capita income of all occupations (incl. non-trucking jobs): $48,006
- Truck driver average wage rank: 32
- Cost-of-living rank: 17
Nebraska, like many Great Plains states, can be a tough place logistically because of its sparse population and heavy reliance on agriculture, which doesn’t provide year-round demand for trucking services. Wages for Nebraska’s 26,360 truck drivers are below the national mean and also below the state’s average per capita income. However, the cost of living is low.
- Average annual truck driver salary: $50,920
- Average per capita income of all occupations (incl. non-trucking jobs): $42,185
- Truck driver average wage rank: 4
- Cost-of-living rank: 36
In many respects, Nevada is the best state in the country for truck driver pay. Only Alaska, D.C. and North Dakota have higher mean wages, but Alaska and D.C. have much higher costs of living than Nevada, and wages for North Dakota truckers are below the average state per capita income. In contrast, Nevada truckers earn nearly 21 percent more than the average per capita income, putting it first in that category. Nevada is also one of only seven states with no state income tax.
- Average annual truck driver salary: $45,030
- Average per capita income of all occupations (incl. non-trucking jobs): $54,817
- Truck driver average wage rank: 30
- Cost-of-living rank: 37
New Hampshire has one of the widest disparities between truck driver pay and what others in the state earn, with truckers making nearly 18 percent less than the average per capita income. Wages for New Hampshire truck drivers are slightly above the national mean, but the state’s cost of living is on the high side. Fewer than 7,000 truckers call New Hampshire home.
- Average annual truck driver salary: $49,080
- Average per capita income of all occupations (incl. non-trucking jobs): $59,782
- Truck driver average wage rank: 9
- Cost-of-living rank: 41
Despite its proximity to huge shipping and distribution centers such as New York City and Philadelphia, New Jersey has a few strikes against it when it comes to earning money as a truck driver. You have to pass through a lot of toll roads in New Jersey, it has one of the highest tax rates in the country and it’s one of the 10 most expensive states to live in. New Jersey’s nearly 49,000 truckers do earn a good annual wage compared to other states, but they make much less than the state’s average per capita income.
- Average annual truck driver salary: $44,460
- Average per capita income of all occupations (incl. non-trucking jobs): $38,457
- Truck driver average wage rank: 33
- Cost-of-living rank: 15
Truck drivers in New Mexico do well compared to others in the state, earning a mean wage that is 15.6 percent higher than the average per capita income. New Mexico’s cost of living is also on the low side. However, owners, operators and registrants of commercial vehicles must pay a weight-distance tax on vehicles with a declared gross vehicle weight over 26,000 pounds, according to the state government.
- Average annual truck driver salary: $50,460
- Average per capita income of all occupations (incl. non-trucking jobs): $57,705
- Truck driver average wage rank: 5
- Cost-of-living rank: 48
New York can be an expensive state for truckers because of its high cost of living and high income taxes. The Empire State also imposes a highway use tax (HUT) on motor carriers that operate certain vehicles on New York State public highways, excluding toll-paid portions of the New York State Thruway. According to the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance, “a HUT certificate of registration is required for any truck, tractor or other self-propelled vehicle with a gross weight over 18,000 pounds.” You can earn a good wage driving trucks in New York, at least compared to other states. But truckers here earn nearly 13 percent below the state’s average per capita income.
- Average annual truck driver salary: $44,030
- Average per capita income of all occupations (incl. non-trucking jobs): $40,656
- Truck driver average wage rank: 36
- Cost-of-living rank: 19
North Carolina is like much of the Southeast. Truck drivers here earn less than the national average but more than most other workers in the state. In North Carolina, truckers earn 8.3 percent above the state’s average per capita income. The Tar Heel State is home to more than 58,000 truck drivers, which is the fourth-highest total among Southeastern states.
- Average annual truck driver salary: $52,080
- Average per capita income of all occupations (incl. non-trucking jobs): $54,376
- Truck driver average wage rank: 3
- Cost-of-living rank: 29
North Dakota’s oil and gas boom has transformed the state’s economy over the last decade-and-a-half, bringing higher wages across all industries. Truckers in North Dakota have reaped the windfall, earning the third-highest mean wages in the country. On the down side, they earn less that the average per capita income in North Dakota, and the state’s cost of living is higher than most of the country.
- Average annual truck driver salary: $45,010
- Average per capita income of all occupations (incl. non-trucking jobs): $43,478
- Truck driver average wage rank: 31
- Cost-of-living rank: 16
Ohio is one of only a few states where wages for truck drivers are lower than the national average but the cost of living is slightly higher than average. That’s not an ideal environment to earn a living. On the bright side, truckers in Ohio earn 3.5 percent above the state’s average per capita income. The Buckeye State is home to more than 74,000 truck drivers, making it one of the nation’s biggest employers of truckers.
- Average annual truck driver salary: $43,880
- Average per capita income of all occupations (incl. non-trucking jobs): $44,272
- Truck driver average wage rank: 37
- Cost-of-living rank: 2
Oklahoma-based truck drivers have the benefit of living in the second least-expensive state in the U.S., which helps alleviate some of the pain of being in the lower third of the country in terms of mean wages. Earnings for Oklahoma’s 25,750 truckers are also lower than the state’s average per capita income.
- Average annual truck driver salary: $47,410
- Average per capita income of all occupations (incl. non-trucking jobs): $42,974
- Truck driver average wage rank: 17
- Cost-of-living rank: 45
Oregon truckers make a good living compared to drivers in most other states — and they need to because of the high cost of living. The mean annual wage for Oregon truck drivers is 10.3 percent higher than the state’s per capita income, making it one of the best states for truckers in that regard. Oregon requires a Heavy Motor Vehicle Trip Permit for vehicles whose gross weight is over 26,000 pounds and/or has three axles, aren’t registered or don’t have “Oregon” on the registration cab card.
- Average annual truck driver salary: $46,650
- Average per capita income of all occupations (incl. non-trucking jobs): $49,180
- Truck driver average wage rank: 19
- Cost-of-living rank: 28
Although the mean annual wage for truck drivers in Pennsylvania is slightly above the national average, it’s still more than 5 percent below the state’s average per capita income. The good news is, there’s plenty of work in the Keystone State. Pennsylvania is home to two major metro areas — Philadelphia in the east and Pittsburgh in the west — and those cities give the state’s 82,000-plus truckers easy access to the urban Northeast and industrial Midwest.
- Average annual truck driver salary: $48,360
- Average per capita income of all occupations (incl. non-trucking jobs): $50,080
- Truck driver average wage rank: 15
- Cost-of-living rank: 42
A truck driver in Rhode Island doesn’t have to worry too much about high fuel costs, at least on intrastate loads. You only have to drive 48 miles to go from the state’s northern border to its southern border, and 37 miles to go from east to west. Of course, that also means truckers can’t pile up a lot of miles driving within the state. Truckers in Rhode Island earn a good wage compared to most states, though they do face a high cost of living. The 3,200 truck drivers who live in Rhode Island are well positioned for hauls to both Boston and New York.
- Average annual truck driver salary: $44,270
- Average per capita income of all occupations (incl. non-trucking jobs): $38,041
- Truck driver average wage rank: 34
- Cost-of-living rank: 26
South Carolina is one of the top states for truck drivers when it comes to pay versus the rest of the state. Truckers here earn 16.4 percent more than the average per capita income, which is the fifth-highest spread in the country. At the same time, mean truck driver wages in South Carolina are below the national average, while the state’s cost of living is higher than neighboring states.
- Average annual truck driver salary: $41,590
- Average per capita income of all occupations (incl. non-trucking jobs): $45,002
- Truck driver average wage rank: 48
- Cost-of-living rank: 27
There’s not a lot to cheer about when it comes to truck driver pay in South Dakota, other than the fact that residents here don’t have to pay state income tax. South Dakota ranks near the bottom nationally in mean wages, yet the cost of living here is slightly higher than the average. Moreover, truckers in South Dakota earn 7.6 percent less than the state’s per capita income. Just across the border in North Dakota, truck drivers make a much higher mean wage even though the cost of living between the two states is not that far apart. This might explain why South Dakota, with a bigger population, has fewer than 8,000 truckers while North Dakota has more than 10,000.
- Average annual truck driver salary: $43,660
- Average per capita income of all occupations (incl. non-trucking jobs): $42,069
- Truck driver average wage rank: 39
- Cost-of-living rank: 7
Tennessee’s low truck driver pay compared with the rest of the country is balanced out by the state’s low cost of living and low taxes. Tennessee has an inordinately high number of truck drivers for a state of its size, with more than 63,000 living here. Many are drawn to Tennessee’s friendly regulatory environment and ready access to several interstate highways that run in all directions.
- Average annual truck driver salary: $45,260
- Average per capita income of all occupations (incl. non-trucking jobs): $46,745
- Truck driver average wage rank: 27
- Cost-of-living rank: 12
More truck drivers live in Texas than any other state, and it’s not even close. The Lone Star State is home to more than 191,000 truckers. California, which ranks second, has fewer than 139,000. Economics plays a big role in the allure for truck drivers in Texas. It has no state income tax and its cost of living is low. Mean truck driver pay here is below the national average but above the state’s average per capita income. Texas has several big cities shipping goods in and out and numerous freeways that truckers can easily hop on.
- Average annual truck driver salary: $45,600
- Average per capita income of all occupations (incl. non-trucking jobs): $39,045
- Truck driver average wage rank: 24
- Cost-of-living rank: 25
Utah is one of the top states when it comes to trucker pay versus the rest of the population. Truck drivers here earn a mean annual wage that’s nearly 17 percent higher than the average per capita income. Utah, home to almost 25,000 truckers, also sits firmly in the middle nationally in terms of both its mean truck driver wage and cost of living rank.
- Average annual truck driver salary: $45,250
- Average per capita income of all occupations (incl. non-trucking jobs): $47,864
- Truck driver average wage rank: 28
- Cost-of-living rank: 40
Like neighboring New Hampshire, Vermont is a state where truck drivers can expect to earn lower-than-average pay while facing a higher-than-average cost of living — never a great combination. The mean truck driver wage for Vermont’s 3,440 truckers is 5.5 percent below the state’s average per capita income.
- Average annual truck driver salary: $42,660
- Average per capita income of all occupations (incl. non-trucking jobs): $52,136
- Truck driver average wage rank: 42
- Cost-of-living rank: 32
Virginia is definitely not for lovers of competitive truck driver pay. Only D.C. and Connecticut have lower scores when it comes to the gap between what truckers earn and what the rest of the state earns. The mean annual wage for truck drivers is 18.2 percent below the state’s average per capita income. Even worse, truckers here make less than the national average but also face a higher-than-average cost of living.
- Average annual truck driver salary: $48,620
- Average per capita income of all occupations (incl. non-trucking jobs): $51,146
- Truck driver average wage rank: 14
- Cost-of-living rank: 38
Truck drivers in Washington have at least two things going for them: higher-than-average pay and no state income taxes. That’s the good news. The bad news is, truckers here earn nearly 5 percent below the state’s average per capita income and the cost of living is on the high side. Moreover, Washington is tucked way up in the Pacific Northwest, meaning its 31,000-plus truckers don’t have a lot of big cities creating demand for loads.
- Average annual truck driver salary: $39,520
- Average per capita income of all occupations (incl. non-trucking jobs): $37,047
- Truck driver average wage rank: 51
- Cost-of-living rank: 21
Truck drivers in West Virginia earn the lowest mean wage in the country even though 20 states have a lower cost of living. On the bright side, pay for West Virginia’s more than 12,000 truckers is nearly 7 percent above the state’s average per capita income.
- Average annual truck driver salary: $45,950
- Average per capita income of all occupations (incl. non-trucking jobs): $45,617
- Truck driver average wage rank: 23
- Cost-of-living rank: 23
If any truck drivers can say they’re fairly compensated for their industry and their state, it’s the nearly 50,000 drivers in Wisconsin. It is one of only two states where the mean wage rank and cost of living rank line up perfectly. Moreover, the average truck driver pay in Wisconsin is almost identical to both the national average and the state’s average per capita income.
- Average annual truck driver salary: $50,200
- Average per capita income of all occupations (incl. non-trucking jobs): $55,303
- Truck driver average wage rank: 7
- Cost-of-living rank: 10
If you don’t mind driving through mountains or making long hauls to reach major metropolitan areas, Wyoming is a good state to call home. It ranks in the top 10 nationally in both mean truck driver pay and cost of living. The downside is that truckers in Wyoming earn about 9 percent below the state’s average per capita income. However, more of that pay goes into their pockets because there’s no state income tax.
High Pay for Walmart Truck Drivers
The OOIDA’s contention that big carriers don’t pay competitive commercial truck driver salaries is supported by some of the industry data. With few exceptions, smaller trucking companies tend to pay more than their larger counterparts.
One of the exceptions is Walmart Inc. Though not a “trucking” company, Walmart still has more than 8,000 drivers in its private fleet and pays them very well. The retail giant earlier this year announced plans to expand its number of truck drivers and pay them even more money.
In January, Walmart said it would hire an additional 900 truck drivers and hike its average annual salary for truckers to $87,500. The retailer also said it would offer referral bonuses of up to $1,500 and pay drivers an additional 1 cent per mile and an extra $1 each time they deliver a trailer, according to CBS News.
Factors That Can Affect Truck Driver Salary
As with most jobs, the single biggest factor in determining truck driver pay is experience. Drivers with many years and miles under their belts can command much higher wages than those just starting out, or with only a few years behind the wheel.
“Experience can help you earn higher pay, especially if you’ve worked for a company known for its reliability,” Viers said.
No College Education Required
One thing that plays virtually no role in a commercial truck driver salary is formal education. A high school degree is all that’s required to enter driver training programs.
Beyond that, there are a few steps you can take to improve your truck driver salary. Building a good work record, developing the right contacts and earning different certifications are all beneficial. So is picking the right employer. Private carriers that ship their own goods, such as Walmart, usually offer better compensation packages than for-hire or full truckload companies, Taylor said.
“Private carriers tend to treat their employees better, with more home time and better pay and benefits,” she said. “Regional companies, like less-than-truckload (LTL), are the same way.”
How to Make More Money as a Trucker
Following are a few of the factors that can play a part in a commercial truck driver salary:
- Hazmat certification: Hazmat, short for “hazardous materials,” is the DOT’s designation for materials that could hurt people and the environment. Hazmat certification is required for truck drivers who handle, remove or ship hazardous materials. A truck driver who gets hazmat certification and hauls hazardous materials can command higher pay, Taylor said.
- Type of truck: Truckers with experience driving flatbed trucks, tankers and refrigerated trucks can often demand higher pay because of the special skills and knowledge required to handle these vehicles.
- Miles driven: The majority of trucking companies operate on a pay-per-mile system, so it makes sense that the more miles you put in, the higher your pay. To pad your truck driver pay, look for companies that offer bonuses for mileage milestones.
- Employer: As Taylor said, private carriers and regional LTL carriers tend to offer better pay and benefits than other types of carries. Truck drivers can improve their salaries by researching which companies pay the highest rates, offer the best benefits packages and provide regular pay raises.
- Type of driver: Truck drivers fall into two basic categories: company drivers and owner-operators. Owner-operators act as small business owners, whereas company drivers are salaried personnel. The most successful owner-operators can charge much higher rates than company drivers, according to the Rigbooks trucking website, but they also must pay their own insurance, vehicle maintenance and overhead costs. For company drivers, those costs are picked up by their employers.
- Work record: Trucking companies put a high value on safety and reliability and will pay extra for drivers with proven track records of delivering loads on time, in good condition and under budget. The best truck drivers can even request compensation for long delays due to traffic or weather.
- Type of pay: Some trucking companies offer pay per hour rather than pay per mile, though Taylor said the number is “very few.” In almost all cases, truck drivers can do much better financially under a pay-per-mile system.
- Professional network: An owner-operator can earn more money by building a national network of contacts that includes carriers, suppliers and logistics companies. Establishing close relationships with logistics companies is especially important because they can find loads for drivers to haul and ensure drivers get paid faster, Viers said.
- Location: The first question many people ask is: How much can a truck driver make a year? the answer often depends on where the question is asked. On average, truck drivers in Alaska make about $18,000 more per year than truckers in West Virginia. But truckers in Alaska also face higher costs of living and fewer driving opportunities. When considering state salaries, it’s important to look at take-home pay and amount of work in addition to average annual salary. If moving is within your means, it could be worth it if you can earn more and have a lower cost of living.
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Small vs. Big Trucking Companies: Who Pays More?
The question of whether big or small trucking companies pay more is a tricky one. The TruckDriversSalary.com website notes that as of March 2019, the two best paying companies for truck drivers in the U.S. were a pair of corporate heavyweights: Sysco Corp., a food and restaurant supply distributor with more than $55 billion in annual revenue; and Walmart, the biggest company in the world with more than $500 billion in annual revenue.
Sysco pays truck drivers an average of $87,204 per year, according to data from the TruckDriversSalary (TDS) website. Walmart plans to raise its average pay to $87,500 a year. Both figures are well above the mean annual salary of $45,570 reported by the BLS.
After Sysco and Walmart, however, TDS’s list of companies with the highest average annual salary is dominated by much smaller outfits.
- Epes Carriers Inc. of Greensboro, N.C., ranks third on the best-paying list with an average annual salary of $83,291. Epes brings in yearly revenue of about $231 million, according to financial data tracker D&B Hoovers.
- Acme Truck Line Inc. of Gretna, La., ranks fourth with an average commercial truck driver salary of $82,892 a year. It has $531.5 million in annual revenue, according to D&B Hoovers.
- Brady Trucking Inc. of Vernal, Utah, ranks fifth with an average salary of $79,906 a year. D&B Hoovers puts its annual revenue at $77 million.
Other highlights from the TDS report:
- Outside of Sysco and Walmart, only two companies on TDS’s Top Ten list have more than $1 billion in annual revenue: Richmond, Va.-based Estes Express Lines with $2.7 billion and Fort Smith, Ark.-based ABF Freight System Inc. with $1.5 billion. ABF is a subsidiary of ArcBest Corp., a trucking and logistics company with around $3.1 billion in annual revenue.
- Old Dominion Freight Line Inc. of Thomasville, N.C., is the only other large, publicly traded player to crack TDS’s Top Twenty list of best-paying trucking companies. Old Dominion has about $4 billion in annual revenue. A truck driver there can expect to earn an average of $69,000 a year, according to TDS.
The Wall Street Affect
When it comes to truck driver pay, publicly traded companies like Old Dominion, J.B. Hunt and C.H. Robinson Worldwide Inc. face at least one challenge that smaller, privately held companies don’t: pleasing Wall Street investors. When you’re under pressure from shareholders to meet profit expectations every quarter, you’re always looking for ways to cut expenses. That includes reducing payroll costs whenever possible.
During a fourth-quarter conference call earlier this year, Old Dominion Chief Financial Officer Adam Satterfield cited lower payroll costs as a reason for the company’s improved quarterly margins.
“While we hired significantly through the first three quarters of the year, as reflected in the 14.2 percent increase in average headcount, our full-time headcount at the end of December was slightly lower than (at) the end of September 2018,” Satterfield said on the conference call.
That means Old Dominion reduced its number of workers (including, presumably, truck drivers) as a way of cutting quarterly costs and meeting earnings goals.
Smaller, privately held trucking companies don’t have to worry about giving Wall Street investors a constant stream of profit growth, so they have much more wiggle room when it comes to the average annual salary of truck drivers.
Many smaller companies also have different priorities than their larger cousins.
“As small business owners, they tend to place a higher value not only on their own time but on that of their drivers as well,” Taylor said.
What Work Benefits Do Truck Drivers Get?
To compete for drivers in the current marketplace, trucking companies must do more than offer good pay. They also must offer comprehensive benefits packages. At a minimum, benefits typically include medical/dental coverage and retirement plans. Paid holidays and vacation are becoming more commonplace, too, as are vision coverage and life insurance.
It’s easy to find out what kinds of benefits trucking companies offer — just visit their websites. Job listings will often include benefits information to attract top talent. The need for new drivers is so great that trucking companies are going to great pains to make sure the right eyes see the right job listings.
For example, Nagle Cos., a Walbridge, Ohio-based trucking and logistics company, offers a benefits package that includes health coverage, dental coverage, disability insurance, retirement/401k and vacation pay for dedicated truck driving jobs.
The Nagle website also lists work-related benefits such as assigned equipment and dispatchers and 98 percent “no touch” freight jobs, meaning drivers will not have to load or unload freight on nearly all the loads they deliver. In addition, Nagle provides quarterly performance reviews that could net drivers bonuses for everything from hitting miles-per-gallon targets to avoiding violations, accidents and road incidents.
Acme Truck Line offers its drivers employer-sponsored health and wellness insurance, a 401k plan and an employee stock ownership plan. Acme also offers “inexpensive rates” on bobtail insurance — which provides protection when drivers are driving a truck without a trailer — as well as physical damage insurance.
Truck Driver Bonus Pay
Many carriers, including Acme, also offer awards and bonuses to commercial truck drivers for safe driving records. Bonuses based on mileage have become a bigger part of the industry as carriers try to figure out ways to lure new drivers.
In April, J.B. Hunt paid out $750,000 in safe driver bonuses based on total miles achieved. J.B. Hunt offers a $5,000 bonus for truck drivers who reach 1 million miles, $10,000 for 2 million miles, $20,000 for 3 million miles and $40,000 for 4 million miles.
How Do Living Costs Impact A Truck Driver Salary?
Making an above-average commercial truck driver salary doesn’t mean much if you live in an expensive city or state where most of your earnings are swallowed up by high taxes and high prices for fuel, groceries, utilities, health care, transportation and housing. It’s important to weigh your average annual salary against your state’s cost of living to ensure you make enough money to pay your bills and set aside savings.
For example, the state with the highest annual mean wage for truck drivers is Alaska, according to the BLS. But Alaska also has one of the country’s highest costs of living. The state with the lowest cost of living, Mississippi, ranks No. 48 in mean annual wages for truck drivers.
A trucker interested in getting the best bang for the buck should research states with lower-than-average living costs and higher-than-average truck driver pay. A handful of states fall into this category including four of which are located in the Midwest: Illinois, Indiana, Kansas and Wisconsin. The state with the best combination is Wyoming, which ranks No. 7 in average annual pay and No. 10 in cost of living.
Numerous resources are available online to help determine the cost of living for a particular city or state. One such resource, the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center, has an Economic Indicators section that includes cost of living data on each state and the District of Columbia.
Who Will Fill the Truck Driver Gap?
Walmart’s job referral bonuses demonstrate how eager carriers are to find new drivers in the face of an aging population of men and women behind the wheel. According to the ATRI, 28 percent of truck drivers are 55 or older.
“The aging demographic of the trucking industry’s workforce puts significant pressure on the industry to increase the available pool of qualified truck drivers,” the ATRI report said.
To address this issue, the ATA wants Congress and federal agencies to develop an apprenticeship program designed to “attract, train and retain” drivers in the 18- to 20-year old demographic. First, though, they need to convince lawmakers to change age-limit laws.
The minimum age for intrastate commercial driver licenses varies from state to state, ranging from 16 in Maine and South Dakota to 21 in New York and Hawaii, according to TDS. To drive loads across state lines, however, CDL drivers must be at least 21-years-old nationwide.
Legislation being considered by Congress, called the DRIVE Safe Act, would let truck drivers under 21 haul interstate loads under strict requirements. These requirements include completing an apprenticeship program and putting in hundreds of hours of on-duty and driving time with an experienced mentor.
‘Creative’ Training for Truck Drivers
Meanwhile, many carriers are expanding their driver pools by recruiting more women for truck driver jobs and providing better training programs, said Viers, a 29-year veteran of the trucking industry who also owns Complete Transportation Solutions, a Charlotte, N.C.-based transportation logistics broker.
“Trucking companies are trying to be creative with their training,” Viers said. “Drivers might start out on the dock now before they get up to speed on driving. It’s a way for trucking companies to develop more young drivers. Many truckers now are baby boomers, and the industry is losing them to attrition. But there aren’t enough young drivers coming up to fill the gap.”
One potential solution is driverless trucks, a technology that’s already being tested. An estimated 294,000 long-haul truck driving jobs will be lost to autonomous vehicle technology over the next 25 years, according to a study from the University of Pennsylvania.
But most industry watchers say driverless technology on a large scale is still a long way off. For now, it’s still a good time to be a truck driver.
How Much New Truck Drivers Make
Different trucking companies have different pay scales for drivers just starting out in the business. The AllTrucking.com website cites Phoenix-based Swift Transportation and Lowell, Ark.-based J.B. Hunt Transport Services as two of the top trucking companies for rookie truck driver pay.
Most rookie drivers will probably start off at the lower end of the pay scale. According to the BLS, the lowest-paid heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers — those in the bottom 10 percent — earned a mean annual wage of $28,160 or less as of May 2018. Those in the lower 25 percentile earned a mean annual wage of $35,040 or less.
Once you build experience and a good track record of reliability and safety, your wages can increase significantly so it quite literally pays to put the time in. Truck drivers in the upper 75 percentile earned a mean annual wage of $54,400 or more as of May 2018. The highest paid drivers earned $65,260 or more.
Different Types of Truck Driver Jobs
For truck drivers, most jobs fall into two main categories:
- Full Truckload (FTL): This means trailers are filled to capacity with freight.
- Less-than-truckload (LTL): This means trailers are only partially filled.
There are also different types of trucks that involve different skills and pay, including dry vans, flatbeds and tankers. For truck drivers who get tired of life behind the wheel, one career option is to become a truck driving trainer.
National salary data on different trucking is scarce. The BLS doesn’t track salaries for different types of trucks, only different types of industries that fall under the general trucking umbrella. According to the BLS, as of May 2018 these were the median annual wages for heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers in the top industries:
- Truck transportation: $45,000
- Wholesale trade: $42,960
- Construction: $41,650
- Manufacturing: $41,280
Additionally, there are different types of jobs in the trucking industry and each involves different type of work. Here’s an overview of what you can expect from each type of trucking job, according to information from AllTrucking.com, a database for truck driver jobs, schools and career information:
- Dry Van Drivers: Dry vans are single-trailer vehicles that transport dry goods and non-perishable items. Most of these jobs don’t require truck drivers to unload the goods, though it ultimately depends on the employer. Rookies in the trucking industry often start out driving dry vans.
- Flatbed Drivers: Flatbed trucks are trailers with a flat body, or “bed,” with no sides or roof. This job requires drivers to have extensive knowledge of their freight and skill at tying down goods, so it often brings higher pay than other kinds of truck driver jobs. Flatbeds are used to transport vehicles, oversize freight and odd-sized items.
- Tanker Drivers: Tankers haul liquified freight, both hazardous and non-hazardous. These drivers tend to be in high demand because of the skills involved, including the ability to react quickly in the event of an emergency. Tanker drivers can earn more than $80,000 a year at some companies, according to the TruckDriverSalary website.
- Refrigerated Freight Drivers: Refrigerated trucks haul goods that need to be kept cool, such as food, medical supplies and body products. Skills needed for this job include knowing how to set the truck temperature, check it regularly and properly store items for optimal refrigeration and temperature maintenance. Because this job requires more responsibility, it typically pays more than standard truck driver jobs.
- Truck Driver Trainer: Also known as commercial driver’s license instructors, truck driver trainers teach prospective truckers all about the career both in the classroom and in the passenger seat. To become a certified trainer you’ll need to take a state-approved driver instructor class and pass a written exam.
Industries That Employ the Most Truck Drivers
Just like there are different trucking jobs, there are different industries truckers serve, some more than others. Being aware of the industries with the highest levels of employment in tractor-trailer drivers is key to knowing where to best target your job application efforts. Here’s a breakdown of the industries the highest level of employed truck drivers:
How Much Can You Make Starting Your Own Trucking Company?
Starting your own trucking company is not that different from starting any other business, whether you want to be an owner-operator with a single truck or head of a small carrier with its own fleet of trucks.
As an owner-operator, you have a chance to earn a lot more money than you would as a company driver. But you’ll also pile up a lot more expenses, take on more debt and devote more time to non-driving tasks such as paperwork and marketing.
Start your own trucking business and become an owner-operator. Contact Seek Business Capital to find the best truck loan for you.
How much money can you expect to make? The average revenue before expenses for individual owner-operators was $160,763 in 2018, up 7.7 percent from the previous year. The average pay per mile was $1.55, according to a report by the American Truck Business Services (ATBS), a Lakewood, Colo.-based trucking consultant and tax firm.
Todd Amen, chief executive of ATBS, called 2018 “the best year ever” for owner-operators in terms of average revenue.
Owner-Operators Can Charge Higher Mileage Rates
The amount of money you actually pocket as an owner-operator is subject to several variables.
“It depends upon how much your costs are upfront, the business model and how many miles you work,” Taylor said.
One advantage of being an owner-operator is that you can charge much higher mileage rates than company drivers, especially if you’re an experienced truck driver with a long track record of safety and reliability.
Company drivers are paid a flat rate, meaning they don’t get paid for any time they spend waiting or taking breaks. To earn a higher average annual salary, company drivers must put in more miles and hours.
In contrast, owner-operators can negotiate rates that might pay them for waiting and load times in addition to mileage, according to SteelPro, a provider of transportation and warehousing services to the metals industry.
But Owner-Operators Also Have More Expenses
But while owner-operators can rake in more money from carriers, they have to spend a large chunk of that money on expenses such as fuel, vehicle financing (if the truck is not paid off), vehicle maintenance, food and drink, insurance and professional services.
Operating costs for a tractor-trailer average $1.38 per mile, according to DUV/RKY, a Landstar agency that provides freight dispatching and recruiting services.
“While successful owner-operators may earn upwards of $150,000 per year, only about $60,000-$80,000 is actual earnings,” the site reports. “The rest covers overhead expenses like permits, tolls, tires, and more.”
ATBS details different expenses you should expect as an owner-operator:
- Fuel: This expense typically runs between $50,000 and $70,000 a year.
- Truck maintenance: Costs vary depending on how many miles you put in, but ATBS says the average is around 10 percent of total costs. Tire costs typically range from $1,000 to $4,000 every time they’re
- Insurance: Costs start at about $2,000 for a leased owner-operator and $8,000 for an owner-operator with authority. Leased operators are those who lease onto a single carrier, which will find loads and help out with expenses. Operators with authority are independent truckers who find their own loads and pay their own expenses. Drivers must also pay health insurance, which averages around $3,400 a year, according to ATBS.
- Food and drink: The cost to eat is another variable cost that depends on how much you drive — and how much you eat. Owner-operators are allowed per-diem tax deductions to help reduce this expense.
- Professional services: A truck driver who doesn’t want to spend time on things like accounting, bookkeeping and tax forms can hire professionals to do the job. These costs will vary depending on how much help you want.
Before becoming an owner-operator, there’s a whole laundry list of things you need to do before you can hit the road and start hauling freight. Upfront costs vary by location and the type of work you want to do. But there’s one simple rule you’ll want to follow, said Linda Finch, compliance specialist with the OOIDA.
“I try to recommend that (drivers) have anywhere from three to six months operating capital to even get started — roughly at the least $20,000 to $50,000,” Finch said.
Financing Options for Trucking Owner-Operators
The vast majority of owner-operators will also need financing for trucks and other business costs, Finch said. One option is to get a microloan, which Finch described as “very small, short-term loans with a low-interest rate, extended to self-employed individuals, new startups with very low capital requirements or small businesses with only a few employees.”
Micro-lending organizations usually offer microloans of between $500 and $50,000, Finch said, whereas Small Business Administration microloans average about $13,000 each and have much stricter requirements.
Another option to consider is working with Seek Business Capital, which specializes in helping early stage businesses and startups find the best lending option for their unique financial situation, which can oftentimes be limited due to a short operating history.
In addition to securing financing, Finch recommends that aspiring owner-operators follow these steps to get their own authority:
- Register your business as either a solo-proprietorship with a DBA, a Limited Liability Company (LLC) or a corporation.
- Obtain an Employee ID# (EIN).
- Register your business with the U.S. Department of Transportation. You’ll need to provide information on where you’ll be operating, how many trucks you’ll have and the types of trucks, whether you’ll haul hazardous materials, your vehicle weight, the type of cargo and whether you’ll be a freight forwarder.
- Apply for a Motor Carrier (MC) number. This can be done via the FMCSA.
- File a BOC-3 with the FMCSA. This form “gives motor carriers, brokers and freight forwarders a legal presence in any state where they do business,” according to the RTSFinancial website.
- Obtain insurance. Finch recommends $750,000 in primary liability insurance, $100,000 in cargo insurance and $1 million in liability insurance. Primary liability covers damages to people or property caused by your truck or trucks.
- Get your apportioned plates and set up an International Registration Plan, or IRP. According to the IRP website, this is an agreement between the states, District of Columbia and Canadian provinces that recognizes the registration of commercial motor vehicles registered by other jurisdictions. It provides for “payment of apportioned licensing fees based on the total distance operated in all member jurisdictions.”
- Set up an International Fuel Tax Agreement (IFTA) account, which is another agreement between the U.S. and Canada that simplifies fuel use taxes by interstate carriers, according to the California.gov website.
- Get a Unified Carrier Registration (UCR). This requires carriers and other businesses involved in interstate commerce to pay yearly fees based on fleet size to supplement funding for state highway motor carrier registration and safety programs, according to UCR.gov.
A few states — Kentucky, New York, New Mexico and Oregon — require additional permits.
To determine the best states for truck driver salaries, Seek Business Capital analyzed data from multiple sources. The salary data used to rank and compare the states came from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment Statistics report for May 2018. Data on average per capita income for all occupations for each state came from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis. Per capita personal income was computed using midyear population estimates of the Bureau of the Census. Cost of living rankings came from the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC). MERIC derives the cost of living index for each state by averaging the indices of participating cities and metropolitan areas in that state. Cities across the nation participate in the Council for Community & Economic Research (C2ER) survey on a volunteer basis. Price information in the survey is governed by C2ER collection guidelines which strive for uniformity.
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