As an owner-operator, or OO, you either own or lease your truck, and contract your services to a freight carrier. OOs are self-employed, meaning they don’t get a W2 form at the end of the year, they receive a 1099. Usually, no income taxes are withheld from your pay, so you have to set that money aside on your own out of all the money you earn. Health, vision and dental insurance are usually your responsibility, and so is retirement planning.
Truck ownership has some distinct advantages. First off, OOs generally earn more than their company-employed counterparts. Since you don’t work directly for the company, you may feel removed from company politics and pressures. However, you still work within the same organizational environment and if the company has an unpleasant workplace, the negativity will still affect you. But an OO can simply shift her work from one carrier to another without having to completely quit. This is also a nice benefit when your carrier goes through slow times and has less freight. You can get work with another carrier without having to sever ties completely.
Some drivers choose to buy their trucks outright from a dealer or a previous owner. You can usually get financing through a bank if you have good credit and a solid employment history. If you buy a truck straight from a previous owner, you might be able to take over his payments. Learn more about buying a semi-truck in this section.
You can either lease a semi-truck from a freight carrier or from a truck dealership. Leasing may make it easier to get your own rig: lease payments are generally lower than loan payments and you may not need to come up with a down-payment. If you lease, your insurance costs are likely to be higher than if you own.
Many freight carriers offer drive-to-own programs where you work as an owner-operator while driving a company-owned truck. Part of your paycheck is automatically deducted as your lease payment. The Owner-Operator Independent Driver’s Association does not recommend leasing through a freight carrier as a path to truck ownership. If you do decide to try a lease-to-own job, make sure you get a copy of the lease in advance so that you can look it over. Ask an expert to review the lease for you before you sign.
An OO is, above all else, a businessperson. As a self-employed entrepreneur, you have to protect yourself from scammers and unscrupulous potential employers. Learning to run your own business is a long process, and there are some mistakes you can’t afford to make. First of all, no matter how much you like someone as a person, never do any work for anyone unless you have a signed contract. A verbal agreement doesn’t cut it, and neither does a written contract without a signature. A lawyer can help you navigate the legal language to make sure you will get paid for your work.
A professional accountant can help you set up your business accounts to maximize your tax deductions and set aside enough money for income and self-employment taxes. He can also help you set up a budget to understand the true costs of operating your business so that you can set your prices accurately. In any business, underestimating your costs and overestimating your income potential will destroy you. It’s important to plan ahead and budget realistically.
As an OO, you will need to plan for health, vision, dental, business, liability and real property insurance. If you lease your truck, you will probably have to carry extra insurance to protect the party who actually owns the truck.