When the road is home

| April 02, 2008

The road to freedom
For Milica Virag, from Camden, S.C., unloading her mortgaged home would be a blessing. “I’m dreaming of a time when I can sell this house and be free of the maintenance and financial burden of owning a home,” she says. She would like to work and save enough money to buy something small and easy to keep up when she retires.

“I’m torn between keeping the house where my children grew up and selling it,” she says. Like Joyce Nolte, also a single woman with grown children, coming home to an empty home she’s got to take care of is not appealing.

When Rafael Fuentes, from Kissimmee, Fla., was single, he lived quite happily without the added burden of keeping up with all the demands of home, cars and property. For a full two years, he lived solely on the road, building up his savings account and paying off his truck after selling his house and property. “Why would I want to go home to an empty place just to mow the lawn?” he says. That changed when he met the woman who is now his wife. He sold his truck, bought a house and is now driving locally so he can spend more time at home.

“Your priorities change, and now I’ve got someone to come home to,” he says.

Jackie Wormley, from Maplewood, Minn., is the daughter of a career trucker and has lived in her truck since she started driving almost seven years ago. At first, she did it to clear debt, which she did in two years, but then she didn’t see the point of renting. She bought her truck in 2005 and decked it out like a cozy apartment. “I have everything in here I need, a TV, DVD, computer, fridge, microwave and one of the best sound systems money can buy,” she says. “I don’t need anything else. I love what I do, and I get paid to be on vacation 24/7. It’s like I am camping every night.” She stays on her parents’ hide-a-bed on her rare visits home and stores her stuff in a 53-foot dry box trailer the company she’s leased to allows her to store in their yard. She pays all her bills online and gets her mail via post office box. “I have everything set up for being a true interstate gypsy,” she says.

“Property-free trucking is all about the freedom to make choices that fit your economic, social and family needs,” says Phil Madsen. “What works for one person might not seem right for another. But when it’s done right, it’s the ultimate freedom.”

Brosnan agrees. “It gets in your blood and really you can’t imagine another way of living.”

Mike Norbut, an owner-operator from Chicago, has been driving for 20 years, the last five without a home base. He says it’s hard to explain that kind of life. “The freedom of the life is the way you feel inside your heart about life and home and what makes a home,” Norbut says. “It’s about knowing yourself and liking what you know. Life is what you make of it.”

Taking the Per Diem
The Per-Diem Meal Allowance permits a tax deduction for some living expenses incurred when you are working away from home, but for truly home-free truckers, taking the per diem deduction is not strictly legal.

The per diem kicks in when you have to spend at least 10 hours in a destination away from home on business, says Russell Fullingim, owner of Truckers Financial Services. But what determines “home” for tax purposes?

“Generally, your tax home is your regular place of business, regardless of where you maintain your family home,” according to IRS Publication 463. “It includes the entire city or general area in which your business or work is located.”

But as an over-the-road trucker, you probably won’t spend enough time at a company’s terminal for it to qualify as a regular place of business, Fullingim says, especially if you are an independent owner-operator.

According to the IRS, “If you do not have a regular place of business or post of duty and there is no place where you regularly live, you are considered an itinerant (a transient) and your tax home is wherever you work. As an itinerant, you cannot claim a travel expense deduction because you are never considered to be traveling away from home.”

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