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What Can Carriers Do If They Aren’t Paid?


April 23, 2024

Freight brokers provide access to loads and lanes that you may not otherwise be able to run, and those can become a fruitful source of revenue for your business.  

However, payments from freight brokers may be delayed, and despite your best efforts to vet brokers, you may find yourself in the position of dealing with non- or slow-paying brokers. Non- or slow-paying loads ultimately disrupt cash flow in your business, which is essential to maintaining your business operations. In a worst-case scenario, multiple non-paying brokers can even cause you to suspend your operations or close your business.  

In this blog, we’ll take a close look at how freight brokers get paid and how freight brokers pay owner-operators. We’ll also provide owner-operators like you with essential tips for how to deal with non-paying brokers and how to prevent non-payment by brokers. 

Understanding Agreements 

Before you start transporting freight for a broker, it’s important to have a broker-carrier agreement in place. The broker-carrier agreement is the legally-binding, mutual contract that you sign as an owner-operator when you transport freight on behalf of a freight broker. The primary components of a broker-carrier agreement include payment terms, rates and surcharges, bill of lading requirements, indemnification and liability clauses, insurance requirements, and information on dispute resolution processes if either party doesn’t fulfill the contract’s terms.  

Review the broker-carrier agreement carefully to ensure you understand what is required of you, and what is required from the broker before signing the contract. Pay close attention to the payment terms section of the broker-carrier agreement, as it is one of the most impactful aspects of the contract. This section outlines how long the freight broker has to pay you and whether they’re going to pay you with a paper check or via bank transfer. Also, be sure to save and keep copies of all your broker-carrier agreements so that you can refer to them directly when a payment dispute arises.  

How Freight Brokers Pay Carriers  

Because most brokers operate on slim per load profit margins, they can’t pay cash immediately once the freight is delivered. Some freight brokerages use QuickPays to fund carriers within five business days, but most factor their invoices. In fact, it’s estimated that nearly 60 percent of freight brokers use invoice factoring services to pay carriers.  

Invoice factoring is an alternative type of financing in which a third party purchases the broker’s shipper invoices, offering near immediate funds to pay carriers. The factoring company advances the majority of the value of each invoice to the freight broker, which allows brokers to pay carriers faster. 

Freight brokers also may use traditional business loans and lines of credit to pay their owner-operator invoices. It’s important to note, though, that most small freight brokers and brokers who are new to the transportation industry may not qualify for traditional bank loans or lines of credit. This is in part why invoice factoring is a popular way for freight brokers to pay owner-operator invoices and other business expenses. 

Why Freight Brokers Might Not Pay You 

There are a range of reasons and scenarios that may cause freight brokers to withhold payment, ranging from legitimate to questionable.  

If there is a legitimate problem with the load, a freight broker may withhold payment. For example, if cargo is damaged while in transit, the broker may not pay you for your transportation services. Other legitimate reasons for brokers withholding payment include failure to complete necessary paperwork, such as broker-carrier agreements. In another less-than-ideal scenario, a freight broker might go out of business and not pay outstanding invoiced amounts owed to you and other owner-operators because they don’t have the funds to do so.  

Unfortunately, there are other reasons that brokers withhold payments that aren’t necessarily legitimate. You may be dealing with a disreputable freight broker who is simply unwilling to pay your invoice. Another increasingly common reason for broker non-payment is fraud. You may have unknowingly engaged with a fraudulent broker, i.e. a crime ring that is pretending to be a legitimate operation. In this scenario, keep in mind that there may be a real broker of the load who also is a victim of fraud. 

Tips for Owner-Operators on Dealing with Non-Paying Brokers 

If you do encounter non-paying brokers, here are five tips to help you navigate the situation: 

  1. Communicate with the Freight Broker 

Your first step is to reach out to the freight broker to ask about the status of payment. There may be a technical or other type of issue causing your payment to be delayed that could be resolved with a quick phone call. 

  1. Check the Contract/Broker-Carrier Agreement 

Each broker-carrier agreement is different so review the payment terms of your contract with the non-paying freight broker. Some agreements state that the broker has up to 90 days to issue payment. 

  1. File a Claim/Report the Freight Broker 

Next, consider filing a claim against the freight broker with the U.S. D.O.T.’s National Consumer Complaint Database. All brokers are required by federal law to maintain a surety bond, a type of insurance that can be used to protect you from brokers withholding payment. 

Be aware that filing on a broker’s bond is not simple, and it can take many months to work your way through the process. There’s no guarantee you’ll receive payment even then. 

  1. Issue a Letter of Demand 

If numbers 1-3 on don’t resolve the situation, consider issuing a letter of demand to the freight broker. The letter should clearly state the amount that you are owed on the invoice and the payment due date according to your agreement. It also should include your intention to pursue legal action if you aren’t paid. 

Dealing with an Disreputable or Insolvent Broker 

If the broker has gone out of business, you will likely never see the full amount you’re owed. You may have a glimmer of hope if the broker files for bankruptcy. The broker could eventually pay you, at least partially, when they liquidate their assets. Unfortunately, this could literally take years, and it’s far from a guarantee, and you’re probably not the only one standing in line waiting for your money. 

4 Tips for Owner-Operators to Prevent Brokers Withholding Payment 

No business owner wants to deal with a non-paying customer. With this in mind, we’ve put together this list of top four actions you can take to prevent non-payment from brokers. (Keep in mind that these actions should be taken prior to signing a contract with a freight broker!) 

  1. Communicate With the Freight Broker 

Yes, we know this is on our previous list, too, but that’s because it’s so important! If you have any questions about the payment terms, be sure to ask the freight broker about them before you sign the broker-carrier agreement.  

  1. Check the Freight Broker’s Business Credit Score 

To find out if you want to do business with a freight broker, check their business credit score. By using a service like Triumph’s credit checks, you have access to information sourced from more than 100,000 brokers. Instantly find out if we’d fund an invoice from that broker and the amount they are approved for. Some load boards even include payment history so you can do some research before accepting a load.  

  1. Make Invoice Factoring a Priority 

One of the best ways to avoid the stress and financial loss associated with non-paying brokers is to use invoice factoring services. Just like freight brokers do, you can use invoice factoring services like Triumph to maintain cash flow. Triumph handles the collection process and provides same-day access to your outstanding invoices, minus a small factoring fee. When you combine the immediate and consistent cash flow boost and the broker credit check services, you’re set up on both ends of the process – pre and post load.  

  1. Build Relationships with Reputable Brokers 

Talk to veterans of the trucking industry, and they’ll tell you that it’s one built on relationships. It’s in your best interest as an owner-operator to get to know the freight brokers with whom you work. This can lead to brokers calling you on future loads. It also makes communication easier when disputes arise around payment terms and expectations.  

Part of that is negotiating rates that work for all parties. 

How Triumph Minimizes Non-Payment Issues 

Our factoring company can help you minimize non-payment situations by checking the credit and payment history of a broker before you enter an agreement. Triumph provides 24/7 access to its online broker credit check portal to give carriers an instant answer on a new customer or one you haven’t worked with in a while. 

We offer additional protection with non-recourse factoring arrangements. A non-recourse contract protects you if a broker goes out of business and declares bankruptcy. In that case, you aren’t on the hook to pay back the advance from your factoring company. 

We save you time and energy by working directly with the broker to collect payment 

and provide you with funds up front while working with you to resolve issues with broker payments. 

Stop Wasting Time Chasing Payments 

If slow payments from brokers are hurting your cash flow, working with a factoring company like Triumph can help you break the cycle. 

Just pick up a load and submit your invoices. We’ll take care of the rest. 

Learn more about Triumph’s factoring services for owner operators.

Trucker’s Guide to Freight Factoring

Our Trucker’s Guide to Freight Factoring explains what exactly invoice factoring is, how it works, and if it’s a right fit for your trucking company.