Do Owner Operators Make Good Money ? Explained.

The trucking industry in the United States generates about $700 billion a year. About 71% of manufactured and retail goods transported in the U.S. is moved by truck. That’s more than 10.8 billion tons of the products people use every day. Without trucks delivering the needed food and other items, grocery stores would be empty in 3 days.  Owner operators make up about 10% of the trucking companies in the U.S. With so much money being generated by trucks, do owner operators make good money? That’s a question many people who are interested in starting their own trucking companies regularly ask.

How Much Does The Average Owner Operator Make Each Year

Research shows that the average independent owner operator generates an average gross pay of about $183,000 a year. While that may sound like a lot, the owner operator does not get to put all of that money in their pocket. In fact, owner operators have to use over 70% of the money they get paid to cover the expenses related to keeping the truck on the road. That means of the $183,000 independent truck driver’s make each year, the amount of money they actually take home is only between $50,000 and $60,000. That’s still a decent salary. However, to earn that much, owner operators drive about 100,000 miles a year.

Two Common Payment Options

Percentage Pay

There are two different ways in which an owner operator can be paid for the trucking
work that they do. Their income can be based on a ‘percentage of load’ or on the miles they drive. The number of owner operators that choose each method is evenly split 50/50.

When they are paid by ‘percentage of load’, the owner operator gets paid between 25% and 85% of the load’s gross revenue. On high-paying loads, that can provide a nice payday, but they take a financial hit on low-paying loads. This can make the owner operator’s pay vary wildly from one week to another and requires very careful financial planning for it to work well.

Mileage Pay

Some owner operators prefer mileage pay. It usually means their ‘deadhead’ time, hours they have to wait for a load, is covered and they consistently make the same amount of money regardless of how much the carrier companies they are working with make on the load invoice.

Many truckers like the consistency mileage pay provides. This is very important for truckers that have families at home that are depending on a consistent amount of money to be able to cover their weekly or monthly expenses. However, studies show that overall, more percentage-pay owner operators are satisfied with their pay.

Switching Carriers

One way percentage-paid owner operators make more money is by switching carriers and working with the ones that offer the best rates. However, there can be a down side to changing carriers too often. In some cases, owner operators that remain with the same carrier for many years can end up getting a better pay rate in the long run.

Over time, carriers can develop a level of trust and a closer business relationship with the owner operators that work with them consistently. As a result, they begin giving them better percentage-pay rates than owner operators than jump from one carrier to another.

How To Ensure You Make And Keep As Much Money As Possible

Most experienced truckers agree that an effective way for an owner operator to ensure they make (and keep) the most income possible is by keeping their expenses down. The expenses an owner operator has will fall into two main categories: their fixed expenses and their variable expenses.

Fixed expenses

These include things like truck payments, insurance, as well as the cost of permits that are required to operate the business. Those expenses remain largely unchanged each month and owner operators must put aside a set amount of money for them.

Variable Expenses

Owner operators can cut costs, save money and ensure they take home more of their money by keeping their variable costs low. There are many strategies owner operators can use to accomplish this. When fuel costs are high, cut your idling time, reduce your speed and renegotiating with your carrier for lower fuel surcharges. Reduce empty miles by working with digital freight matching services that can help you instantly find loads near where you are to help you reduce deadhead expenses.

Better Control Your Food Budget

You can increase your after expenses salary by controlling your food budget. Simple things like keeping a cooler in your truck, buying drinks in bulk and using a microwave or a hotpot in your truck with a power inverter, can save you lots of money on buying food each month. Combine that with making healthy food choices that lower your long-term healthcare expenses and you will increase the amount of money you take home each month.

Find The Best Payment Programs

As an owner operator, you should look for the best of the payment programs available. You can do research online, talk with other owner operators and contact some local and national trucking organizations to find out what resources and information they have available. You have a great deal of control over how much money you make each month. If you put consistent effort into identifying the best trucking payment programs and manage your income properly, you can maximize how much money you take home monthly.

Expenses To Consider

Owner operators have several expenses to consider when creating a monthly budget that will make the trucking enterprise more profitable. Getting as many high paying jobs as possible is important. So is being willing and prepared to drive the 2,000 miles or so it takes each month to generate the $183,000 a year the average owner operator is able to make. But properly controlling your expenses and managing your income is just as important. As an owner operators you can make good money if you control your expenses.


For most owner operators their largest expense is fuel. On average, an owner operator spends between $50,000 and $70,000 on fuel annually. The best way to reduce fuel costs is to identify your truck engine’s “sweet spot”. The most efficient RPM at which to run the engine. Your truck dealer can provide specifics that can help you find your engine’s fuel saving “sweet spot”.

Truck Payments

The second biggest expense owner operators face is the cost of payments, maintenance and tires for their trucks. About 10% of an owner operator’s total expenses is truck maintenance and repairs. Overestimating maintenance costs and putting the money in a dedicated maintenance account is a great way to make sure you set aside enough to cover this essential cost. Be prepared to pay between $1,000 and $4,000 to replace each tire.


Basic insurance coverage for a truck typically costs owner operators $1,500 or more a month, depending on your coverage plan. It should include Cargo coverage, Physical Damage and potentially some General Liability coverage. You can reduce your month insurance premium by agreeing to pay a higher deductible. As an owner operator you should anticipate spending about $3,500 a year on health insurance.


Prepaying about 20% to 30% of your net income into a tax account quarterly is a safe and easy way for owner operators to avoid expensive surprises on tax day in April. It’s also essential to keep good records and receipts for your expenses all year long. This will help you to avoid tax penalties and a huge tax bill at tax time. A good tax expert can help you identify your deductions and calculate your depreciation and how much you owe in state and federal self employment and other taxes each year.