Newbies - Financial Considerations

Varied Income | Mileage Pay | Percentage Pay | Hourly Pay

If you ask a hundred professional drivers about their income, you will probably get a hundred different answers. Some will tell you what they earn per mile, some will quote a percentage of the payload and others might tell you what they earn per hour. If you take these three types of income and add per diems, loading, unloading, drops, hooks and countless other forms of pay, you might as well get your answer from a crystal ball.

Varied Income
You will not be able to determine how much you will earn before you choose a carrier. Even after you have been a professional driver for ten years your income will vary from week to week. That's the nature of the trucking industry. This isn't necessarily a negative feature, however, as it means you will have more flexibility to make more money in this career than you ever had before. You will have some control over the amount of time and effort you give to earn a living as a professional driver.

It is rare for a carrier to pay a driver based on a straight hourly or annual salary. You will have to examine the wage variables before you determine which company will give you the most money at the end of the week. Although a carrier may advertise the rate of pay per mile, you will need to investigate much more than a simple mileage rate. A carrier which appears to pay less than the next might actually provide a larger paycheck if they cover many of your expenses or pay for sleeper berth time, or reward drivers with bonus checks for fuel economy or safety.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national median annual wage for over-the-road truck drivers in 1999 was $30,650. The same government agency reports that the median hourly wage for truck drivers in 1999 was $14.74. This figure was derived by dividing the annual pay into a forty-hour week. How many professional drivers do you know who work only forty hours each week?

Before you start comparing one carrier to another there are some things you should expect when you speak to a recruiter. The recruiter is actually a sales person, someone who is hired to "sell" the carrier to potential employees. He or she will do their best to provide an attractive image for their company.

Once you determine that the carrier does not provide the pay or benefits as promised, begin looking at other companies that offer a better package. Learn as much as you can about each of the pay variables so you can make your decision on as many facts as can be determined.

Mileage Pay
For company drivers, the most common rate of pay will be called mileage pay. This is the amount you will be paid for every mile you drive. When you look at this figure you should also consider whether the miles are paid from the "hub" or from actual miles ran, or whether they are paid from a mileage guide, which many not be as accurate. Carriers often use the Household Mover's Guide or other forms of mileage compensation so every driver is paid equally and no trucks are run out of their routes for the purpose of padding this number.

If you are paid by the mile, will you receive the same amount whether you are loaded or empty? Also, will you be compensated for picking up a load in the shipper's yard and dropping it at the carrier's for another driver to deliver? Do you receive more for shorter hauls or is the rate the same regardless of the trip length?

Another thing to consider when being paid by the mile is whether a minimum number of miles will be guaranteed. Don't fall for any claims that you will be able to run over 3,500 miles in a week because you are restricted by your driving time. Excess miles mean you will be falsifying your logbook or operating illegally to earn those extra dollars. Be wary of any carrier that allows you to run over your DOT limitations.

Percentage Pay
Percentage pay is usually reserved for owner-operators, but you might be offered pay based on a portion of the load's income. The benefit of this is that any increases a carrier charges will be passed on to you, but the negative aspect is that you will also suffer from rate cuts or discounts. If you are paid by a percentage, you might not be compensated for unloaded (deadhead) miles. Will the carrier take advantage of this and send you across the state to pick up your next load?

Hourly Pay
It is rare for an over-the-road driver to be paid by the hour. For local drivers or LTL (less than truckload) carriers, this is more common. If you find a carrier willing to pay you for every hour worked, you will have a more accurate idea or your potential earnings.