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#1 Ultimate Guide to Semi Truck Leasing

By
Brian Smith
May 2, 2024
10 minutes
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#1 Ultimate Guide to Semi Truck Leasing
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Having your own truck and working for yourself is a truck driver's dream. But it takes time to work your way to the point where you afford to be self-sustainable. Semi truck leasing is a great way to make money or gain experience without investing a huge amount of capital by purchasing a truck. 

Before you go pedal to the metal, read on to learn the requirements, precautions, and cost of semi-truck leasing.

Semi Truck Leasing

Requirements To Lease a Semi Truck

Each semi leasing company has its own requirements, but across the board, there are a few main qualifications they like to see to permit a lease. Familiarize yourself with the common prerequisites so that, once you decide on a company, you don't get slowed down by surprise hurdles. Let's take a look.

Eligibility Criteria For Leasing Semi Trucks

Commercial Driver's Lisence (CDL)

This one's obvious, but you'll need a Commercial Driver's License to lease an 18-wheeler. It might also help to have specialized endorsements and certifications.

Credit Score

Your credit score doesn't have to be as high as it would be to finance and purchase a truck. However, a higher credit score could mean lower rates and more favorable terms, changing how much it costs to lease a semi truck on your monthly payments. A credit score of less than 600 will probably disqualify you from leasing.

Driving Record

While you only need one to two years of driving experience to lease, your driving record should be reasonably clear of moving violations and avoidable accidents. Too many red flags may scare away leasers from lending you their equipment.

Financial Preparedness

Just how much does it cost to lease a semi truck? This depends on several factors:

Credit Score

A down payment can decrease your monthly costs, which are also dependent on your credit score. That said, leasing is a great way to get your credit score up in preparation for financing.

Proof of Income

You'll need to show pay stubs proving your income and ability to make payments.

Down Payment Ranges

How much down payment required to lease a semi truck is determined by your credit score and desired monthly payment:

  • 750+: Down payments around 5%.
  • 700-749: 10% - 20% 
  • 650-699: 20% to 30% 
  • <650: 30% or higher

0-Down Options

That said, you can avoid making a down payment with certain companies. Your monthly rate will probably be higher, but the option makes tractor-trailer leases possible for drivers with limited liquid funds.

Credit Score for Lease Purchase Trucks

Draft a Comprehensive Business Plan

Business plans aren't requirements to lease a semi truck, but they can work as a negotiating factor to get more favorable lease terms. If you plan on signing for a lease to own semi trucks, you'll be in this contract for a long time and want a best-case-scenario situation.

Include the freight-type you intend to carry, your expected revenue and costs, and what company you'll be working for.

Insurance Requirements

Insurance is one of the biggest monthly expenses for owner-operators. Include this in your semi truck leasing cost as part of your monthly budget. Here's a quick break-down of the types of freight insurance that protect you against all types of mishaps. These are estimates; consult with your chosen semi trucks for lease agency and insurance company to confirm rates and requirements. 

General Liability

Covers: Vehicle and injury damages

Cost: $5,000 to $12,000 annually

Physical Damage

Covers: Leased truck damages

Cost: $1,000 to $3,000 annually

Cargo Insurance

Covers: Freight damages

Cost: $400 to $1,200 annually

Bobtail/Non-Trucking Liability

Covers: Off-duty truck incidents, no trailer hitched

Cost: $360 to $480

Gap Insurance

Covers: Value of totaled truck

Cost: $600 to $2,400 annually

Leasing a Semi Truck: Quick Checklist

  1. Commercial Driver's License (CDL)
  2. Paperwork: USDOT and/or MC, International Fuel Tax Agreement (IFTA) Permit 
  3. Reasonably Clean Driving Record (1-2 years)
  4. Know your credit score
  5. Proof of insurance
  6. Truck preferences and requirements
  7. Proof of income via pay stubs 
  8. Business plan with projected costs and revenues
  9. Terms of lease: mileage restrictions, vehicle quality, monthly payment amount, end of lease terms (lease to own semi trucks versus general leasing)
  10. Research companies that offer lease and purchase semi trucks and decide on one to work with.

Having all paperwork in order will speed up the approval process and provide a leg to stand on for agreeable semi truck lease terms. Use this checklist to prepare yourself for your leasing journey.

Semi Truck Leasing 101: What You Need to Know

Definition of Leasing a Semi Truck

Semi truck leasing allows truckers to rent semis for a monthly payment, often down payment free, under a contractual agreement. Because there is no initial investment required, leasing provides an opportunity for owner operators to get started on their own, even if they can't afford to buy a truck. Lessees can lease to own, extend, or break ties at the end of the contract.

Process and Benefits of Semi Truck Leasing

Leasing a semi truck vs buying has a host of benefits, but failing to review the fine print of your contract can lead you down an expensive road.

Benefits:

  • Access to new equipment requiring less maintenance
  • Choose between truck models and price ranges
  • Potential for leaser to cover maintenance costs
  • Independence on the road without the upfront financial burden
  • Avoid owning and maintaining a depreciating vehicle
  • Less debt limiting your other credit lines

Understanding the Fine Print:

  • Mileage restrictions could limit your drive time
  • Terms of termination (own vs end)
  • Hidden responsibilities or fees mean reading contracts carefully is essential

How Semi Truck Lease Agreements Work

The great thing about lease agreements is the flexibility to choose your terms. This means drivers can control their semi truck leasing cost (to an extent). Factors up for negotiation include:

Lease length

Semi truck leases are typically 3-4 years

Payments

Monthly payments depend on the truck itself and your credit score. You can find options that work for your budget.

Maintenance

Whether the lessee or the lessor is responsible for maintenance costs varies from contract to contract.

End-of-lease terms

Choose from lease-purchase programs for semi trucks or traditional leases, ending the contract or extending it.

How Much to Lease a Semi Truck

Cost of Leasing a Semi Truck

How Much Does it Cost to Lease a Semi Truck?

On average, leasing a semi truck costs from $1,000 and $2,500/month depending on the truck and your history. The best truck brands like Peterbilt, Kenworth, Mack, Volvo, and Freightliner are available in new and used models with a range of mileage levels. 

Your semi truck lease cost can also vary based on the features of the truck and whether it includes new technology, a spacious sleeper, and amenities like a shower and mini-fridge. If you want a semi truck lease that absolves you from maintenance costs, this may drive the monthly cost up as well.

Breaking Down Leasing Costs

Monthly Payments: $1,000 - $2,500

Insurance: $5,000-$12,000 per year

Down Payment: 0% to 30% of truck value

Mileage Over-Charges: $.10 -.20 cents per mile

Lease End Charges: Usually negotiable, impacted by damage or mileage discrepancies.

Maintenance: If not included, up to $10,000 per year

Ideally, you keep the cost of leasing a semi truck as low as possible while maxing out your monthly earnings. The best way to do this is to shop around and compare semi truck lease costs from different companies. Also, calculate how much your down payment and monthly payment would be if you were to purchase - is it less than the price of leasing a semi? If not, you might be a better candidate for financing.

Down Payments

As mentioned before, down payments can be avoided altogether, and that's one of the highlights of leasing. In most cases, down payments are 10% to 20%, making it affordable to lease a used truck. For example, the down payment on a used $75,000 truck would be $7,500 - $15,000. The down payment on a brand new $200,000 truck would be $20,000 - $40,000.

When calculating how much down payment to lease a semi truck, know that it will affect your monthly payments and other terms. There's always a give and take to leasing a semi truck between cost and truck quality.

The Great Debate: Buying vs. Leasing Semi Trucks

Truck Leasing vs. Buying Insights

It's often a question of deciding to lease a tractor trailer or buy one. Here are the main differences:

Upfront Costs: 

  • Leasing: Initial or down payment, security deposit.
  • Buying: Down payment, seller/dealership fees, financing, and interest.

Truck options:

  • Leasing: Access to modern trucks with the newest technology every 3-5 years.
  • Buying: Responsible for installing and updating your truck with new technology.

Depreciation: 

  • Leasing: No depreciation as the lessee doesn't own the truck.
  • Buying: The owner faces depreciation as with any vehicle.

Maintenance:

  • Leasing: Often included in the leasing contract.
  • Buying: Responsibility of the owner.

Tax Deductions:

  • Leasing: Lease and insurance payments are deductible as a business expense.
  • Buying: Deductions for depreciation and expenses are significant but spread out over several years.

Resale Concerns:

  • Leasing: No resale concerns when leasing semi trucks - end, extend, or lease-to-purchase trucks.
  • Buying: Must sell the truck or replace.
cost comparison for semi truck leasing

Considerations for Semi Leasing vs. Buying

Leasing a tractor trailer is ideal for drivers who'd rather have a new truck at all times. Old trucks require much more maintenance which not only racks up expenses but eats into time on the road. Maintenance is usually included in lease contracts, meaning lessees have a stress-free relationship with repairs.

Buying is great for drivers who want a long-term investment that's 100% theirs. They don't want to worry about driving too many miles for the leasing company or tailoring their cab to their preferences.

As a happy medium, lease-purchase truck programs provide the benefits of flexible financing with the ownership qualities of buying your own truck. Swift and Schneider offer favorable leasing programs, and Freightliner sells a variety of truck models.

Let's take a look at the financial comparison of truck leasing vs buying.

Lease vs. Buy Analysis on Financials

Monthly semi truck leasing costs are typically lower than loan financing payments. Avoiding maintenance costs is also a huge bonus when they can reach the thousands each month. Conversely, wear-and-tear costs are factored in at the end of the lease, so you do have to be watchful of minor damages and factor them into the expected cost to lease a semi truck.

On the flip side, truck owners can take advantage of tax benefits from depreciation, interest, maintenance, and insurance premiums. There's also the benefit of no mileage restrictions, meaning owners have more flexibility on the types of loads they take.

cost comparison for buying a semi truck

Pros and Cons of Semi Truck Leasing

Pros

Next, we overview the pros and cons of leasing a semi truck starting with the pros.

  • New Technology: Leasing options often have new technology and clean interiors.
  • Predictable Payments: Monthly lease payments provide predictability in budgeting, making it easier to manage cash flow.
  • Maintenance: Many leases pay for general maintenance costs.
  • Financial Risk: Leasing absolves the driver from the downsides of depreciating truck values.
  • Credit Preservation: Leasing may be a more viable option for businesses with limited credit availability, preserving credit lines for other purposes.
  • Less Commitment: Drivers can move on after the lease ends in 3-5 years, or extend it.
  • Less Upfront Costs: The initial investment is cheaper to lease versus to buy.
  • Frequent Upgrades: Enjoy the option to experience the newest truck models every few years.
  • Competitive Advantage: Having access to the latest truck models can give your business a competitive edge in terms of efficiency and customer perception.
  • Contract Flexibility: Lease to purchase semi trucks provide financial flexibility and the ability to craft a contract that works for your business.

Cons

  • No Ownership: At the end of the semi truck lease, you don't own the truck post-lease unless it was a lease-to-own.
  • Potential Higher Costs: Over the long term, semi truck leasing can exceed buying costs.
  • Complex Agreements: Drivers must be extremely careful to avoid hidden fees and clauses.
  • Lack of Customization: Leasing companies may have restrictions on adding company logos or specific equipment to the truck, which is mandatory at some carriers.
  • Mileage Restrictions: Charges for exceeding a set mileage can be limiting.
  • Wear and Tear Fees: Charges for excessive truck wear can carry a shocking price tag a the end of the lease.
  • Reselling Issues: If you need to get out of the lease early, it can be challenging to find someone to take over and lease a semi truck from you.

Addressing the Question: Is Leasing a Semi Truck a Good Idea?

If you do the research and ensure a fair lease agreement, leasing a semi-truck can provide otherwise unattainable profitability and flexibility. Careful planning and calculations can make sure to avoid unnecessary fees and have a fruitful leasing experience.

The pros and cons of leasing a semi truck are dependent on the driver's personal and financial situation; it could very well be the best decision to lease a semi truck now and buy later when your finances are in a different place.

Semi Truck Lease Purchase Programs: A Deep Dive

Lease-to-purchase semi truck options provide the option to test out a truck before taking the leap and purchasing it. Contracts include a hybrid agreement that combines elements of a lease and a purchase. Lease-purchase trucks are essential for thousands of truckers who can't afford the huge initial expenditure but seek the independence of being an owner-operator, something that cuts down the high turnover in the trucking industry.

Many lease-purchase semi truck companies provide options and obligations for the driver to haul freight for the leasing company until the contract is up. This means steady and consistent work for at least the period of the lease, helping drivers gain footing on their own and help to pay off the vehicle.

Benefits of Lease to Own Options

  • Lease to own semi trucks act as a trial period before full ownership. If you realize you don't want to be stuck with that truck, no harm no foul.
  • Lease to own semi trucks typically have lower upfront costs than traditional financing, opening the door to ownership for more drivers.
  • For lease-purchase trucks, payments gradually contribute to truck ownership, building equity and assets. 
  • At the end of the lease, you walk away with property rather than thousands spent on a truck that isn't yours."

The Most Popular Lease to Purchase Brands

1. Swift Transportation

  • Year Established: 1966
  • Key Characteristics: Get training, competitive rates, and haul company freight.

2. PGT Trucking

  • Year Established: 1981
  • Key Characteristics: No money down, free fleet manager, discounts on parts and tires.

3. Schneider

  • Year Established 1935
  • Key Characteristics: Haul company freight, tire discounts, low credit requirements.

4. Nova Lines

  • Year Established: 2012
  • Key Characteristics: Top-of-the-line lease to own trucks, long haul freight.

5. Roehl Transport

  • Year Established: 1962
  • Key Characteristics: 1-year experience required, high-quality lease to own semi truck options.

Where to Find Truck Leasing Programs

Local Dealerships: Ask nearby truck dealerships for leasing options and price offers. Comparing offers will shed light on semi truck lease costs in your area.

Mega Carriers: Carriers like the ones listed above attract reliable drivers with programs for leasing a tractor trailer and becoming more independent.

Online Marketplaces: Explore online platforms that list truck leasing options. Make sure they're reputable, reliable, and honest.

Trucking Associations: Trucking associations can provide access to resources and recommended leasing programs, including driver testimonials and official ratings.

Fellow Drivers: Talk with fellow truckers or industry peers for recommendations. Truckers are always willing to warn fellow drivers of shady business partners.

Financial Institutions: Some banks offer leasing options or have affiliations with truck leasing entities.

Why You Should Get a TMS Before Leasing a Semi Truck

As you enter the realm of semi leasing, maximizing each week's earnings will become a top priority to pay off your new bills. TMS systems make booking loads and managing all the associated paperwork more streamlined, saving drivers time to make more money.

On top of connecting you with shippers and brokers, TMS systems provide access to organized load boards with load planning tools and fuel calculators.

You'll want a smooth start when you lease a commercial truck, and a huge part of that is not getting bogged down by invoicing, organization, and paperwork management.

Boost Your Trucking Business with Cota Systems®

Cota Systems® is a specialized transportation management software (TMS) made by truckers for truckers. Our app provides tailored features to make life easier for drivers, removing some of the stress of leasing a tractor trailer by helping drivers earn more with every mile driven. When loads are booked with Cota Systems, access is granted to our freight factoring service (never worry about chasing a payment).

Get familiar with the app before starting a lease-purchase truck program to start strong with guaranteed freight quotes and efficient dispatching.

Charting Your Trucking Journey

Hopefully, this guide helps you make more informed decisions as you browse semi trucks for lease, purchase, and lease-to-own. With the right financial preparation and a strong freight brokerage software in your toolkit, sustainable profitability is achievable. Cota Systems® is here to help you on your journey toward owner-operator status. If after reading this extensive guide you decide that semi truck leasing isn't for you - check out our list of the best trucking companies to work for in the US according to truckers. Also, here are our favorite truck driver quotes for success in life and business.

Happy trucking.

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