Lease-to-own for big purchases often induces a great deal of stress. Whether a house, a car, or other financial investment, there are a number of responsibilities for a new owner. For this reason, many seek alternative arrangements instead of outright buying. Some rent or lease, avoiding the potential pitfall of a bad investment. Others find a middle ground, opting for a lease-to-own program. Many trucking companies offer this road to new drivers interested in starting their own business, but who lack the knowledge to jump directly into ownership.
A little research into this option will turn up some warning signs. Stories of drivers getting blindsided by their respective companies at the very end of a contract, other drivers warning against a lack of equity in a rig at the end of a contract, and still more complaints of inadequate earnings riddle search results.
So if there are so many reasons not to take advantage of these programs, why would anyone use a lease-to-own program to enter the trucking industry?
The answer is knowledge. A well-informed, aspiring owner may find that, in fact, a lease-to-own agreement is an ideal method to get started in the trucking business.
Let’s examine the advantages and disadvantages of each option, thereby determining if a lease-to-own truck is the right choice for you.
Buying a New or Used Truck
This might have been the first choice that occurred to you, and thus the first option eliminated. It’s true that buying incurs the most immediate responsibility, and perhaps you feel unprepared to own just yet. Let’s break down the potential benefits, as well as drawbacks, of buying a semi.
- Maintenance. A new truck will have fewer mechanical issues at the start, eliminating the need for technical knowhow at the beginning of your career.
- Rules. You make them. Without having to answer to another owner during a lease or a lease-to-own period, you can choose how, when, and where to drive.
- Long-term savings. Buying means saving all the money you would lose on a leased truck that you’d return at the end of the agreement, or, in a lease-to-own, the additional money baked into your payments not going towards the value of the truck.
- Upfront costs. In order to ensure the terms of your loan are agreeable, you’ll have to put down a significant down payment.
- Maintenance. While a newer truck will have fewer issues, you may be purchasing a used truck, and in any event, whatever goes wrong is entirely your responsibility to get fixed.
- Commitment. Buying a truck means locking yourself into the financial burden. If you discover that trucking no longer interests you, the asset becomes a hefty burden you’re responsible for off-loading.
Lease or Rent a Truck
If buying seems an intimidating prospect, but the appeal of becoming a trucker remains, another option may utilize is a lease or rental. It allows you to discover if a career in trucking is right for you, without locking you into a long-term commitment if you find it isn’t. However, like buying, you’ll want to examine the pros and cons of this option. Here’s a breakdown to assist.
- Low risk. Without a commitment to ownership, you mitigate the potential loss of funds. If profits aren’t adding up, you don’t have to justify trucking beyond the lease agreement.
- Trial. If you’ve never worked in the industry, leasing provides you with the opportunity to try it. Some companies will even offer the option to buy at the end of a lease, so you can keep the truck you’ve familiarised yourself with.
- Lacking control. When you don’t own the truck you operate, you sacrifice autonomy. The owner of the rig can set parameters around when, where, and how you operate.
- Upfront costs. Much like buying, there are some upfront costs required for a lease. You’ll need to put a deposit down. While it will be returned to you, you’ll still need cash to get started.
- Credit. A lease will generally require a strong credit score to guarantee to the lessor that you can make the payments. If you have poor credit, you may be denied.
Lease-to-Own: The Middle Road
Perhaps buying feels like too great a commitment, but you feel leasing without the prospect of ownership is a waste of funds. This is what lease-to-own agreements were meant to serve, a middle ground between immediate ownership and renting semi-trucks. It allows you the opportunity to build knowledge and experience, while also setting you down the path to becoming an owner-operator.
While this prospect may sound attractive, it’s important to inform yourself of the various pitfalls associated with this option. The first step is ensuring the company you’re working for is reputable and reliable. If you’re going to lease-to-own from the same company you drive for, you want to guarantee they’re as invested in your success as you are. Most lease-to-own agreements include a balloon payment – a large, final sum of money – at the very end of the leasing period before you own your truck. Some drivers experience unfair practices during the last stretch of the contract because the company wants them to fail, thereby relinquishing ownership back to the company and forfeiting your investment.
How to Determine a Company is Trustworthy
First, investigate the company’s financial outlook. A company whose profits track downward can indicate the potential for an undesired outcome. If the company were to shutter during the term of your agreement, the blowback could hurt you financially and leave you without a truck.
Second, make careful and considerate comparisons to other companies offering similar programs. You don’t want to get stuck with a bad deal when others offer more favorable terms, rates, or payments. The best method of weighing options is to study lease-to-own contracts. Familiarize yourself with the terms and verbiage until you understand exactly what’s being offered to you. Check for things like penalties for paying late, how much money must be set aside, and whether or not deposits are returned to you at the end of the agreement. This can become mind-numbing, so it’s advised you seek legal counsel to assist you in traversing the terms of the contract document.
Once you’ve established a company is reliable and you’re comfortable signing an agreement with them, there are a few considerations to account for in a lease-to-own arrangement that will ensure your successful introduction to a new career.
Best Operating Practices for Lease-To-Own
Before you receive the keys to your semi, know everything you can about upkeep. Since you’ll become the eventual owner, you’ll want to ensure the value of your investment is retained to the best of your ability. Regular check-ups, including simple oil changes and grease jobs, keep your truck from incurring greater damage. The same way you would maintain the plumbing in your house, or the health of your appliances (or your own health, for that matter), you want to look after your semi. Just because it isn’t yours yet doesn’t mean you shouldn’t treat it as though it is.
Additionally, drive with the health of your truck in mind. Instead of trying to break records, keep a steady, reliable pace that preserves your brakes and doesn’t put any undue stress on your equipment. Being mindful at all times about the upkeep of your truck helps to keep it from breaking down and costing you considerably more on expensive fixes.
So, with all this in consideration, what are the benefits and drawbacks of a lease-to-own arrangement?
- Responsibility. If you don’t know enough about the trucking industry, this option has all the benefits in this regard to leasing – the original owner of the truck shares responsibility with you.
- Cost Mitigation. A lease is not an investment, it only provides the opportunity to test. A lease-to-own allows you to build towards an investment, rather than wasting funds on someone else’s rig.
- Credit. Many companies will allow you to enter an agreement without a credit check. If you have poor credit, you can still enter the industry and work towards becoming an owner-operator. Further, it can actually help you build your credit.
- Investment. A lease-to-own not only provides you with the opportunity to attain an asset but allows you to invest your time in learning the ropes of the industry. In a purchase, you can’t afford missteps, you’ll need to know what you’re doing quickly. With a lease, you’re building industry knowledge, but without working towards ownership, you don’t have the personal investment enriching the experience with the reassurance that you’ll have something to show for it at the end of the agreement.
- Balloon payments. These can be burdensome, and require financial planning. If you’re not ready for it, a balloon payment at the end of your agreement can ruin your effort and leave you without a truck.
- Companies. A lease-to-own arrangement requires finding a trustworthy company that isn’t going to undermine your efforts at the end of the agreement.
The Bottom Line
A lease-to-own arrangement may seem burdensome, between the research required before signing a contract, and the commitment to purchase the truck at the end of the leasing period. However, with a deliberate, cautious, and informed approach, an aspiring owner-operator with limited experience can take advantage of a lease-to-own agreement as to the beginning of a fruitful and rewarding career as a trucker.