Easing into ownership: The successful path to lease-purchase

| June 11, 2013
Andera Jackson

U.S. Xpress lease-purchase operator Andera Jackson advises others considering a lease-purchase to have some mechanical knowledge: “You want to stay out of the shop as much as possible. You don’t want to pay $150 to put in a headlight.”

Among many truckers, lease-purchase programs have a less-than-stellar reputation. Some programs are easy to enter, offering no-money-down no-credit-check guarantees. But they also can make it hard to achieve the ultimate goal: truck ownership.

Allen Smith

Allen Smith, founder of Truth About Trucking, says that while there are some good lease-purchase programs, participants’ failure rate is high.

“There are some good companies out there with lease-purchase programs that help the driver, but the fail rate with most lease-purchases is very high,” says Allen Smith, founder of Truth About Trucking, a website and Internet broadcast that gives new and prospective drivers an inside look at over-the-road driving.

Smith, a former household-goods-hauling owner-operator who now works as an intrastate company driver in Florida, tried three lease-purchase programs in the early 1990s and never found a way to make them work. His 2011 Truth About Trucking survey showed 77 percent of drivers never complete their lease-purchase agreements.

Some failed because they didn’t understand the nature of the owner-operator business and weren’t prepared for major repairs and other big costs. Others say they couldn’t make the truck payments because their companies reduced their miles near the end of the lease – a common complaint among critics, including Smith: “Most lease-purchases are set up for the driver to fail.”

Unscrupulous practices such as that have earned these programs the unsavory “fleece-purchase” moniker.

Andera Jackson thinks it’s unfair to put all lease-purchase programs under the same umbrella. If you pick the right program with the right carrier, Jackson says, lease-purchase deals don’t have to be financial pits waiting to swallow their next victim. The 42-year-old trucker from Dayton, Ohio, is eight months away from owning a 2007 Freightliner Century financed through a lease-purchase with Chattanooga, Tenn.-based U.S. Xpress.

“You have got to know what you are getting into,” Jackson says. “This is my third lease-purchase. I did two one-year leases before this one. It gave me insights into what’s going on.” He used the first two lease-purchases to trade up, with plans to pay this one off and own the truck outright.

Jackson has 24 years of trucking experience, 12 years as an owner-operator, and says the U.S. Xpress support system helps him with business-related or personal issues that could affect his business. In return, he offers his guidance to other U.S. Xpress drivers considering a lease-purchase.

Grailing Jones, owner-operator development director with Schneider Finance, a subsidiary of Schneider National, also believes support is a must for drivers making the transition to truck ownership.

“Each client’s situation is unique, and their goals are different,” Jones says. “We sit down with each new client and go over their goals. Each new client is assigned a customer relations manager to give them the resources to meet the goals they have set.”

Buying a truck is only part of the lease-purchase experience for a driver who’s never been an independent contractor. To learn about the owner-operator business model, visit OverdriveOnline.com/pib, where you’ll find information on Overdrive‘s Partners in Business manual, 2013 seminars and videos of presenter Kevin Rutherford at past seminars.

Many company drivers considering a lease-purchase mistakenly expect an instant pay bump, says Zach Little, vice president of operations at Bay & Bay Transportation.

“You will take home and net less money the first few years as a lease-purchase owner,” says Little, a former owner-operator who started as a lease-purchase driver.

Little says the rewards come in the third year and later, depending on how hard the driver has worked and how he has run his business.

“Sometimes it is not about making more money – it is finding ways to reduce expenses,” he says. “Being an owner-operator out of the gate is a tough grind.”

Jackson stresses discipline. “Once I have my bills paid, I put everything else in a savings account to build,” he says. Many drivers “who fail in a lease are those who haven’t saved for a major breakdown. These trucks are mechanical, and something is going to happen at some point.”

These tips can help you succeed in a lease-purchase deal.

LEARN THE OWNER-OPERATOR BUSINESS MODEL. If you simply like driving a truck and think being an owner-operator is an easy avenue to more money, re-evaluate your plans. Eventually you will have the opportunity to make more money – but only if you understand you are running a business first and that driving is just a part of it. Talk to other successful owner-operators. You will hear a lot about sacrifice and discipline. You also will hear a great deal about taxes, profit and loss, permits, paperwork, procedures and regulations. Then ask yourself how dedicated you are to make it a reality.

EXPLORE ALL FINANCE OPTIONS. A lease-purchase path may be the easiest path to truck ownership, but other options could be cheaper and less risky.

  • Save your money and buy a used truck outright. You won’t have a monthly payment, and you’ll have the ability to change carriers with no financial penalty, both of which set you way ahead of a lease-purchase operator.
  • Explore conventional financing if you have good credit and a sizable down payment. This, too, offers flexibility in changing jobs if needed. Your total costs for the truck might be less than a lease-purchase.
  • Look at third-party leasing. You can test the waters by leasing with an option to buy at the lease’s end. Again, flexibility and often better rates are the upside, though credit and down payment also come into play.

COMPARE LEASE-PURCHASE PROGRAMS. If you haven’t been with a company long, establish trust with management and learn the details of the operation. Once your understand your company’s lease-purchase program, call other carriers and compare their programs. Talk to drivers in a contractual deal with a truck.

RESEARCH YOUR COMPANY’S FINANCIAL STABILITY. Most lease-purchase programs tie you to the company until the end of the lease, so the company’s health could impact your ability to complete the lease. If the company is publicly traded, its financial picture is available online and elsewhere. If it’s a private company, don’t be afraid to ask about its long-term financial prospects and its debt level. Learn about its reputation within the industry. Research the economic outlook for its primary shippers. A downturn in freight could reduce your miles and destroy the chance of completing your lease. If the company is just starting a lease-purchase program, this could be a warning sign. Switching carriers is costly, but the cost of a multiyear financial agreement that goes sour could be greater.

CHECK OUT THE TRUCK YOU INTEND TO LEASE. Ask to see maintenance records, and inquire about any major repairs. Make sure all recalls have been addressed and problems fixed. If warranties are offered, study the terms. Determine if the mileage makes sense for the year of the truck. Ask how many times the truck has been leased. This not only will give you insight into the equipment itself, but also the lease-purchase program itself. Numerous leases on a particular truck should be a red flag.

BE PREPARED FOR THE PAYOFF. Some lease-purchase plans, especially in the case of an older truck, are structured so that you own the truck outright with the final payment of the lease. Other plans, particularly if the truck is new or a late model, will have a large payoff, or balloon payment, when the lease ends. In such a case, devise a financial plan that will ensure you can make that final payment. Also in that case, calculate what you will owe compared to the truck’s estimated actual value at that point. You don’t want to be underwater on the truck’s value at the end of lease. Nor do you want to make payments for years and have little or no equity because you can’t make that final payment.

GO OVER THE CONTRACT WITH A FINE-TOOTH COMB. Look out for chargeback items like permits, insurances, taxes and even third-party accounting. Many contracts state that being late on one payment could put you in default. Some contracts run 15 to 20 pages and are laden with legalese. Getting an attorney to review the document might cost a couple hundred dollars, but it could save you thousands.

UNDERSTAND ESCROW ACCOUNTS. A maintenance escrow can be helpful if you are inexperienced with a truck’s upkeep, but some lease-purchase escrows give limited or no control over your use of the funds. There might be a minimum balance requirement that forces you to pay out of pocket for a repair. Other escrow accounts can be required, such as a security escrow to cover expenses the lessee fails to pay. Make sure you can get the escrow balances back when you complete the lease or if you change carriers.

RESIST A HARD SELL. If you get excessive pressure to sign a contract, walk away. A company with your best interests at heart will understand your desire to do further research or get counsel from family, friends or professionals.

 

  • Jackie

    This is noting but a SCAM,lease purchase,haven’t you guys been getting screwed enough by these companies,what part of you never buy a truck from a company that controls your freight that you don’t understand!!!! Idiots what you need to do is strike,until your needs are met,

  • http://www.facebook.com/craig.vecellio.7 Craig Vecellio

    I leased with Roehl for a while. Their lease program is pretty good. While I was running, I made slightly better money than I made as a company driver running the same miles-the biggest factor of course was fuel management, and Roehl has a good fuel surcharge program. One really nice thing about Roehl is if you can’t complete the lease, and decide to go back to being a company driver, they take back the truck, minus costs for any repairs that need to be made, with no hit on your credit report. I left Roehl because my divorce forced me out of the long haul industry-I needed a job with a predictable schedule to schedule visits with my son. Roehl closed out the lease with no major hassles. After a few months, I got a call from the recruiter asking how my new job was going. They held no hard feelings over the matter.

  • Fred Martin III

    After going thru several companies lease programs and ending up with no truck, I found a way to lease-purchase a truck that works without going thru a trucking company, but you have to have money for the down payment. Lone Mountain Leasing, they helped me get into a 2007 Volvo 780 in April 2011. I pay my truck payment of $1325 once a month to a finance company and they report to the credit bureau to help build my credit. If your leased to a good company where you can make a good living, you won’t have to worry about going any where else, but if you have to, you can move your truck where ever you decide to go.

  • http://www.facebook.com/craig.vecellio.7 Craig Vecellio

    I was doing fine at Roehl until my divorce. That made long hauling unworkable. It’s not a scam.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1616634677 Steve Miller

    Thanx Fred, I appreciate this info.

  • Ira Doss

    I’ve sold drivers that worked for me their trucks. It was a stupid decision for me to make my best drivers independent. I only say this because a carrier is only going to do something that benifits them. We all know that there is nothing free or easy in this industry. Years ago I lease/purchased a few trucks and list my tail. To allow one carrier to be your bank, your dispatch and your shop is making one carrier your life partner. You may see higher gross numbers and drive a little faster but your making them more money and giving them more control over you, your business and your family. Save up a few thousand dollars and go see someone like Steve at CAM Equipment in Huntsville, TX. Then your truck isn’t married to a carrier and the dealer financing you has a genuine interest in seeing you complete the deal and succeed. It’s a bad idea to have all of your eggs in that one carrier’s basket.

  • moving place

    As the owner of a Small Company, I have sold 2 trucks to employee drivers. One was very successful, and completed the program in 2 years. The original contract was for 3 years. The other was a complete failure. Lack of money management skills is what did him in. From August 2012 to January 2013, we paid this driver $81000 +/- after all expenses and deductions. No matter, he was still broke. After paying him $2800 on a particular Friday morning, he called for a cash advance that same afternoon for $10.75 because he quote / unquote “Had Bills to Pay” His passport was retained by U S Customs until he could go to the truckstop to get the $10.75??? Some people are just not meant to be in business. It takes an extreme amount of dedication, and a sense of sacrifice in order to be successful in business. Living within a budget is the most important factor in obtaining business success. When you make a large check, SAVE the extra money and only pay yourself a reasonable living wage. If you spend it all, you will have absolutely nothing left for the emergency needs when they come. This is an extremely informative article, and I will save and hand out to anyone in the future that may consider this path. Thank you Overdrive.

  • Tod L.Augustine

    Stay away from companies that have 20 to 30 in orientation every week but retain the same amount of drivers from month to month I tried this with John Christner trucking they are the biggest bunch of lieing theives going! They tell you the truck needs service and when you get it back you are an extra 1600 negative because they decided the fan clutch needs rebuilding at 275000 miles without telling you because they call the shots!I am with a great co. Now that pays 100 per of the fsc to the truck that works to be 30 percent of the linhaul and all loads average 3 dollars a mile! Don’t be in a hurry learn how and when to purchase fuel and stay away from jct,prime,trans am,stevens, at all cost nbecause it will cost you everything! Cal ark,even if the payment goes toward ownbership ask how many been completed the previous year!

  • Travis

    Before you sign a lease-purchase, check out my Kindle book, “Bare-Knuckle Trucking; Strategies for Owner-Operator Survival.” I wrote this book to detail many of the ways motor carriers and their captive finance companies transfer the capital cost and tax burdens to lease-purchase operators while retaining ownership of the truck to indirectly control the lease-purchase operator. I actually got the title to my truck, but it was through a unique set of circumstances that will not be replicated at a large fleet.

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  • Alice Black

    could you let me know where you went thru. 856 534 8362 thanks

  • Holly

    Tod, it sounds like you didn’t read this article very closely.

    “Some failed because they didn’t understand the nature of the owner-operator business and weren’t prepared for major repairs and other big costs.”

  • Jean

    Tod- sounds like you have failed at more than just one company. I believe maybe you should take a step back and review the common denominator-YOU. All of the companies you mentioned have good programs with successful drivers. Maybe you should look into taking a different career path.

  • Moglar

    Listen! ‘Fleece Purchase” programs are rip offs….PERIOD! In this fashion the company does not have to pay the usual costs associated with a company driver because the driver is a “contractor.” DUH!
    Plus the company makes money on scamming the driver into a truck, forceing them to use their “services” (which the company gets rebates and kick backs on).
    Here is how you do it. Work and save for a decent down payment on a truck you can take where you want to lease.
    I work for a carrier as a company driver and take home $1200 per week. I am gonna save, develope a solid business plan and have the OOIDA on my side to help guide me. I have saved $30,000 thus far and am ready to get a nice used late model truck (obviously financed).
    Work, save your money and develop a business plan. The problem is people want instant gratification and want the shiney truck right now so they can pretend to be an “owner operator.”
    I have a flash for you…..doing a fleece purchase DOES NOT MAKE YOU AN OWNER OPERATOR BECUASE YOU DO NOT OWN THE TRUCK!

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