February 25, 2021
How Much Do Truck Drivers Make? A Quick Guide
Have you ever wondered what a truck driver’s salary is? According to Indeed, the average truck driver’s salary in the United States is $60,863 per year. However, while some drivers may make a relatively meager earning, other drivers can make upward of $100,000 per year.
When he started his own trucking company Haulin Assets, Chris paid himself around 42 cents per mile. But, according to him, that was generous for a driver with his experience.
The salary fluctuates further, as some companies provide payments per mile while others may offer payment based on an annual salary. Here’s an overview of the earning potential of truck drivers and what affects how much you can make in the trucking industry.
Factors That Affect a Truck Driver’s Salary
Like any industry, the salary can vary greatly because of a number of factors. And, while some companies may pay more, they might run their drivers harder, not have good equipment, or could require more work hours.
Here are the most common variables that affect your salary.
The Type of Loads You Haul
What you haul can have one of the biggest impacts on your salary. As a general rule, you can make more if:
- You need more certifications to haul the load (like HAZMAT)
- You’re hauling loads that create a higher risk for drivers (like ice road trucking)
- You need more specialized equipment (like tankers)
The highest paying types of loads are:
- Ice road trucking
- Oversized loads
- Luxury cars
- Mining equipment and industry loads
- Owner operator
If you’re planning on starting your own trucking company, keep in mind the types of loads you want to haul before you purchase the right equipment. It can help you determine your earning potential.
For example, purchasing a refrigerated trailer (reefer) can open up more opportunities for more loads, since they can be used as a dry van as well. However, reefers are often much more expensive than dry vans, so you need to keep in mind when calculating the cost of starting your company.
Nothing compares to getting actual experience on the road. If you remember the first time you backed the trailer into a dock, you may remember what it’s like. Drivers who have just gotten their CDL can be expected to be paid much less than drivers with decades of experience.
If you’re working for a company, the company determines the cost, but you should consider paying yourself based on your experience if starting your own trucking. Because expenses are higher for inexperienced drivers, you may want to consider starting with a lower salary.
The two biggest expenses that are impacted by experience are:
- Load Rates. It’s harder to get higher-paying loads with little to no experience, as many brokers won’t work with brand new authorities.
- Insurance. Insurance costs much more for drivers with less experience.
Drivers with only one year of experience may only make on average $56,693 while a driver with more than 10 years of experience can make closer to $68,177.
Different states often have different pay rates, which is adjusted by a variety of factors that can’t be covered in depth here. Certain states have a higher cost of living, and other states may also have higher registration fees and taxes to consider for operating costs.
The states that pay the most are:
- New York: $50,460
- Nevada: $50,920
- North Dakota: $52,080
- District of Columbia: $52,760
- Alaska: $57,630
The states with the lowest pay are:
- West Virginia: $37,730
- Alabama: $39,050
- Florida: $39,330
- Arkansas: $39,430
- South Dakota: $40,090
While truck drivers may be expected to travel across the country, having a base state is crucial, as many companies want to hire drivers that they expect will have a final stop close to home to prevent unnecessary deadhead miles.
Company Driver vs. Owner Operator
Whether you’re your own boss or working for another company can also impact your potential salary earnings. Finding the right company and working up in the company can grow your salary, but certain other factors can affect your pay, too.
A common misconception is that any profit that you earn goes to you, as the boss. However, it’s best to invest profit back into the business. At the start, you may not be making any extra money as a business owner, but as your company grows, you can choose when your company can afford to increase your wages and build more value out of your business.
Even as a new company, you should start by paying yourself about what you were making as a company driver.
Read More: Owner Operator vs. Company Driver
Different Salary Types
Truckers were first often paid by the mile. However, with regulations from DOT and the FMCSA restricting the number of hours truck drivers can drive, some companies did stray away from the pay per mile and chose to provide a salary pay or weekly salary. The most common types of salary are:
Pay Per Mile
Organizing pay per mile makes your pay fluctuate, but the more you run, the more you can earn. It’s a great way to earn bonuses and while your pay may vary week by week, you can get a much higher pay per mile.
However, if you get stuck at a receiver or have to wait for your load in any way, you won’t get paid for that detention time, unless your company has a policy in place for it.
Salary is a good way to get a consistent paycheck each week. It’s often lower than regular pay per mile costs, but you do get paid for detention time, and some companies offer safety bonuses or overtime pay for passing a certain number of miles within a pay period.
How To Determine Good Wages for Yourself or Your Truck Driver
As stated before, when starting your own trucking company, you may not see a big increase in your salary right away. In some cases, you may even take a pay cut. The important thing is that even if your company is seeing a loss, it is possible to still pay yourself when possible because it’s a legitimate business expense.
If you aren’t sure how much to pay yourself, the best way to choose good wages for yourself is to set your salary at what it was with your previous employer. You can also look at job descriptions and see what they offer truck drivers with your qualifications. Listen to Haulin Assets and check out each financial episode to see how much went into Chris’s salary as a truck driver.
Are You Running Your Own Trucking Company?
If you need more help starting your own trucking company, give the coaches at Motor Carrier HQ a call. We can help you build a custom game plan for your business. If you need to get your own trucking authority, register under the UCR, or pass the new entrant safety audit, we can help! Leave the paperwork to us so you can get on the road and make money.