How Truckers Keep On Transacting

America’s 3.5 million truckers face serious delays when they can’t easily pay for fuel and cargo-unloading services. Carrying cash isn’t always safe, and payments acceptance can vary retailer to retailer. In the new Next-Gen Payments Report, Women In Trucking Association CEO Ellen Voie explains how EMV cards, expense tracking and budgeting tools keep drivers from veering off course.

Trucking is a major American job sector, as 3.5 million professional truck drivers traverse a collective 400 billion miles annually to power both brick-and-mortar and eCommerce shopping experiences. However, transporting shipments from coast to coast presents a host of challenges. Trips may last for days, and truckers must pay for everything from food and fuel to repairs.

Carrying enough cash to cover those many needs is often a security risk, though, and drivers who lack the appropriate spending tools could see their delivery schedules veer off track if they have to search for specific retailers that will accept their payment methods. PYMNTS recently caught up with nonprofit Women in Trucking Association, and several truck drivers, to discuss what it takes to ease on-the-job expense management.

On The Road As A Company Driver

Carmen Anderson drives for major beef transporter America’s Service Line, and relies on several payment tools while on the road. The company does not compensate her for fuel costs, but provides some reimbursement and support. Drivers can take out cash advances on their paychecks to make work-related transactions, and they are allowed to have $200 of their weekly wages delivered in advance to business spending cards. There are no additional costs when using the cards for fuel-related expenses, though other purchases are subject to transaction fees.

Such support helps truckers manage their payment needs, but Anderson said having cash on hand is still imperative. She tends to keep a few hundred dollars ready, just in case she makes a purchase at a retailer that does not accept credit cards, or if she needs to pay helpers to unload her truck. Anderson noted that she began to rely on cash after struggling to use her Wells Fargo card, which was often declined when she crossed state lines. Issuers that detect magstripe credit card data being used in unusual locations might assume that thieves in different regions are using stolen information.

Anderson’s switch to cash preceded receiving an EMV card that resolved the issue. Magstripe cards’ stored payment credentials do not change, unlike EMV card credentials, and the former’s details can be lifted by card skimmers. EMV cards instead generate one-time-use transaction codes for each purchase, complicating data theft and preventing the same card information from being used for multiple transactions.

“We can go through four or five states in a day, and we’re doing different purchases, so my bank used to always put a hold [on my card],” Anderson said. “They said, ‘You have to call us,’ but I don’t have time to call every day and say where I’m going to be because sometimes I don’t know.”

Anderson’s most frequent costs relate to food, fuel and parking. She usually cooks and sleeps in her truck to reduce expenses, and her company reimburses parking fees. Parking costs can range from approximately $15 to $30 a night, and Anderson uses an app to snap photos of her receipts and send them to America’s Service Line. Such expenses are then reimbursed in her next paycheck. She still prefers cash, but EMV cards provide her with additional options.

Independent Owner-Operators Face Their Own Hurdles

Not all truckers sign on to work for companies, and going it alone as an owner-operator presents its own challenges. A major pitfall faced by these gig workers is setting aside enough wages to cover all their costs, said Ellen Voie, president and CEO of the Women in Trucking Association.

Voie explained that some owner-operators might overlook tax-deductible purchases, and forget to adjust their budgets to accommodate new expenses, which can lead to major charges and surprise bills. Expense tracking and budgeting tools can be crucial to spend management, helping newer gig workers to avoid pitfalls.

“One of the biggest mistakes is when drivers buy their own trucks, but still think of themselves as truck drivers instead of as small business owners,” Voie said.

Trucking company owner and operator Deb LaBree offered PYMNTS an inside perspective. She and her husband, Del, own and drive for Castle Transport, often traveling more than 1,000 miles a day, and arranging additional jobs while on the road. Fuel tends to be their most pressing need, while small replacement items like lightbulbs are also common. LaBree often uses a business-account-linked credit card that allows her to organize and track finances, and she leverages an app to scan receipts and link them to payments via accounting software.

“The digital time we live in has made life — especially one on the road — so much easier,” LaBree said.

LaBree’s customers typically compensate her through a trucker-focused payment processing company, then she deposits those funds into Castle Transport’s business account, which is set up to automatically allocate funds for equipment needs, insurance and their own salaries.

She added that it is occasionally helpful to access tools from the same processing company Anderson uses. Some clients do not offer assistance with unpacking trailers, and truckers must hire cargo unloaders — called lumpers — to help. Typically, lumpers are either self-employed or employed by small businesses, and may either not accept credit cards or prefer cash. They frequently favor checks issued by trucking industry payment processing systems.

Company drivers and owner-operators often spend long hours on the road transporting goods to market. Those trips usually involve many purchases — and running out of funds, or lacking the appropriate payment tools, could slow or halt them. Truckers have learned through years of experience which payment methods are key, as well as how to balance cash, credit cards, business spending cards and other options to ensure that they can keep on trucking.

The gig economy space includes more than just software designers connecting over digital platforms, or repair professionals and ridesharing drivers providing services directly to consumers. Payment companies must be attuned to the unique, industry specific needs of gig workers across all sectors. The payment firms that cater to the trucking industry must address everything from lumpers’ desires for cash payments to owner-operators’ demands for seamless expense tracking and business management services. Resolving these payment needs will fuel millions of truckers’ daily deliveries.